Renewable Energy Policy can Save the EU

Originally published at JohnBrianShannon.com by John Brian Shannon

An accelerated switch to renewable energy is the path to EU jobs and prosperity

Europe is on shaky ground. There is even talk in some quarters that the euro, and consequently the EU, may not last a year.

Critics of the European Union are predicting that continued austerity measures, the elections in Greece, petroleum price instability, and Russian moves in Ukraine will conspire to topple the European Union.

Of course, this is a subject of ongoing debate. EU backers say that the present economic morass will end and that the UK and other European nations will join as full European Union members in the coming months, resulting in a unified and complementary union ready to take on the challenges and opportunities of the 21st century.

Success Stories Throughout History

Throughout history, various leaders have ‘risen to the occasion’ to provide visionary leadership — seemingly ‘rising out of nowhere’ to inspire great love among the public for a cause, and on account of their great vision and leadership impossible feats occurred on their watch due to the combined willpower of millions of thereby-inspired people.

People are individuals, and no matter how many individuals there are in a country or in a larger economic union like the EU, at the end of the day every one of them are individuals living inside a larger society. Therefore, leaders must appeal to those things important to their citizens.

In Life; All a person really needs, is a person (or something) to love. If you can’t give them that, give them hope. If you can’t give them that, at least give them something to do.

Leaders who can inspire love for the country through their vision and charisma, have the effect of giving each individual in the country something to love. Or at the very least, give them hope.

Where would the United States have been without FDR?

The New Deal was a series of domestic programs enacted in the United States mainly between 1933 and 1938. They included laws passed by Congress as well as presidential executive orders during the first term (1933–37) of President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

The programs were in response to the Great Depression, and focused on what historians call the “3 Rs”: Relief, Recovery, and Reform.

That is Relief for the unemployed and poor; Recovery of the economy to normal levels; and Reform of the financial system to prevent a repeat depression. — Wikipedia

The success of the New Deal is beyond dispute. Without it, the United States would not be half the country that it is today.

Where would Great Britain have been without Winston S. Churchill?

Sir Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill was a British politician who was the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1940 to 1945 and again from 1951 to 1955.

Widely regarded as one of the greatest wartime leaders of the 20th century, Churchill was also an officer in the British Army, a historian, a writer (as Winston S. Churchill), and an artist. Churchill is the only British Prime Minister to have won the Nobel Prize in Literature since its inception in 1901, and was the first person to be made an honorary citizen of the United States. — Wikipedia

In between lecturing Hitler and Mussolini via his weekly radio broadcast, Winston Churchill painted a realistic picture of Great Britain for his citizens, and painted another realistic picture for them what life would be like under occupation.

Rather than be cowed by a more powerful aggressor, Churchill inspired his people to valour and sacrifice. And they responded powerfully.

What would our 21st century world have become had Mohandas K. Gandhi not perfected the art of non-violent protest?

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was the preeminent leader of Indian independence movement in British-ruled India. Employing nonviolent civil disobedience, Gandhi led India to independence and inspired movements for civil rights and freedom across the world. Indians widely describe Gandhi as the father of the nation.

Gandhi famously led Indians in challenging the British-imposed salt tax with the 400 km (250 mi) Dandi Salt March in 1930, and later in calling for the British to Quit India in 1942. He was imprisoned for many years, upon many occasions, in both South Africa and India.

Gandhi attempted to practice nonviolence and truth in all situations, and advocated that others do the same. Gandhi’s vision of a free India was based on religious pluralism.

His birthday, 2 October, is commemorated as a national holiday, and world-wide as the International Day of Nonviolence. — Wikipedia

Imagine if every protest movement since 1947 hadn’t been influenced by Gandhi. Almost certainly, the anti-Viet Nam protests and the civil rights movement in 1960’s America would have led to civil war.

Due to Gandhi’s example, individuals who were part of the anti-war movement or the civil rights movement protested — peacefully for the most part — and to great effect.

John F. Kennedy’s decision to not be cowed by the USSR’s Nikita Khrushchev, led eventually, to the end of the Soviet Union

Had JFK not stood up to Soviet adventurism in Cuba and South America, the geopolitical world would have evolved very differently The USSR would have, in short order, controlled the Western democracies completely.

By utilizing the economic advantage, by ordering a Moon shot, and by not backing down against the communists in Viet Nam, JFK neatly avoided playing the Soviet gameplan — and instead played a gameplan that favoured the strengths of the democratic West.

All of these visionaries gave citizens reason to — love their country, to hope for a better future, to employ their good will and energies — towards solving the almost unsolvable problems of their time. (Love, Hope, Do)

Without that overarching vision promised by their political leaders, without that hope in their hearts, and without some means to express their goodwill and energy, citizens wouldn’t have united in large numbers to solve the near-insurmountable challenges of their time.

Now is the time for visionary EU renewable energy leadership

The case for the EU to adopt a ‘50% renewable energy by 2020’ portfolio and make it an ‘air quality and jobs mission’ for citizens and governments alike:

The vast majority of Europeans want a renewable energy future.

They know that the technological hurdles have been overcome, they know that many Pacific Ocean island nation-states and Indian Ocean islands now run on 100% renewable energy, they know that Norway is powered by 100% renewable energy and that Iceland has surpassed 76% renewable energy use.

They know that Sweden gets 51% of its energy from renewable energy, and that Latvia, Finland, Austria, and Denmark aren’t far behind. They see Estonia, Portugal, and Romania getting more than 25% of their electricity from renewable energy and they see Germany’s Energiewende setting stellar records for renewable energy output every month.

Other nations in Europe have surprisingly advanced renewable energy programs and some EU nations will surpass their renewable energy target before 2020.

Renewable Energy provides massive employment opportunities

And it is becoming apparent that when compared to the fossil fuel industry, the renewable energy industry provides thousands more jobs per million people. Always handy that, a job to go to.

Energy Price Parity and Subsidy Regimes

Not only has some renewable energy approached price parity with conventional energy, in some cases it has surpassed it. Especially when the massive global fossil fuel subsidies that topped $600 billion in 2014 ($550 billion in 2013) are factored in.

Meanwhile, global renewable energy subsidies barely hit $100 billion in 2014, the majority share of it spent in China.

Worried about fossil fuel subsidies? That’s nothing compared to fossil fuel externalities

Fossil fuel subsidies of $600 billion (globally) are one thing. But it now appears that the economic totality of fossil fuel cost to healthcare systems, to livestock health, the agriculture sector, the global climate, regional climate (local drought or flooding) and damage to outdoor concrete and metal structures may now exceed $2 trillion dollars per year.

China reports 410,000 premature deaths per year are due to air pollution. The U.S. admits to 200,000 premature deaths by air pollution and as many as 400,000 premature deaths per year occur in Europe due to our overuse of fossil fuels.

If you add the global rising fossil fuel subsidies of $600 billion to the global externality cost of fossil fuels, it equals approximately $2.6 trillion (globally).

How much renewable energy can we get for $2.6 trillion dollars, please?

It’s not that fossil fuels are intrinsically bad, or evil. It’s not that the people who run those companies are bad, or evil. It’s not the shareholder’s fault either.

It’s just that too many of us are using fossil fuel.

And nobody is forcing us to buy it. If there are reasonable alternatives to fossil fuel overuse, then citizens are making a conscious decision to pollute the air, rather than choose those alternative forms of energy.

But if no alternative exists for citizens to purchase (and yet consumer demand is there) that is primarily the fault of policymakers.

The solution to the fossil fuel subsidy and externality problem in the EU? Renewable energy

With the right vision and the right leadership, getting the EU to a 50% renewable energy minimum standard by 2020 is eminently possible.

There are no technological hurdles that haven’t been solved.

There simply exists no public outcry against renewable energy power plants.

Grid parity (with low subsidy) is now the norm — even against massively subsidized fossil fuel and nuclear power.

And several countries around the world already run on 100% renewable energy. One of them is in Europe. (Norway) So it can be done.

It’s not about; How much will switching to renewable energy cost us?

It’s now about; How much will renewable energy save us?

Each one euro spent on renewable energy installations (actual installations, not more endless research) could save two euros of fossil fuel subsidy and three euros of fossil fuel externality cost — although there is a time lag involved before healthcare systems, ranchers, farmers, and owners of infrastructure see declining costs.

Following the 1/2/3 fossil fuel subsidy and externality equation, we see that if the EU suddenly installed 10 billion euros worth of wind turbines and solar panels (displacing the equivalent amount of fossil electrical generation) the EU would save 20 billion euros of subsidy, and would over 25 years, save 30 billion euros in heathcare costs, costs to livestock health and agriculture, and outdoor concrete and metal infrastructure repair costs.

Spending 10 billion to save 50 billion — for a net save of 40 billion euros over 25 years. Not bad.

Spending 100 billion euros to save 500 billion — for a net save of 400 billion over 25 years, that works too.

So, denizens of Europe, how much fossil fuel electrical power production would you like to replace with renewable energy?

The EU should move to a 50% renewable energy portfolio by 2020 and make it a priority ‘mission’ for citizens and governments alike. An energy ‘New Deal’ for EU citizens

In order to plan for a clean EU energy future, we need to look at where the European Union is today and make a responsible plan, one that displaces fossil fuel electrical power production without placing undue economic hardship on existing electrical power producers.

A ‘can-do’ attitude that doesn’t ignore the many positives associated with an EU-wide 50% renewable energy standard will be required to meet the challenge

Present EU renewable energy targets by 2020 could easily be ramped-up across-the-board to 50%. NOTE: Sweden is already there, with Latvia, Finland and Austria not far behind.
EU 2020 renewable energy targets could easily be ramped-up across-the-board to 50% renewable energy usage. NOTE: Iceland and Sweden have surpassed the 50% renewable energy threshold, with Latvia, Finland, Austria and Denmark not far behind.

The best candidate for an EU-financed switch to renewable energy?

Malta is presently striving to meet its target of 10% of energy demand from renewable sources by 2020. However, Malta could easily convert to 100% renewable energy in as little as 24 months.

Malta is a tiny island nation and other tiny island nations have successfully transitioned to 100% renewable energy — and it took them only a few short months to accomplish that goal.

Malta’s electrical grid produces 571 MW at peak load and uses expensive imported fossil fuels.

Replacing Malta’s fossil fueled electrical grid with a combination of offshore / onshore wind turbines and solar panels is well within our present-day technical capabilities and would save the Malta government millions of dollars per year in fuel and healthcare costs.

A low-interest loan from the EU to cover the capital cost of wind and solar power plants and some basic technical support is what Malta needs. Nothing more complicated than that.

How would replacing Malta’s present electrical power generation with 100% renewable energy benefit the EU and the residents of Malta alike?

It’s a given that all of the wind turbines and solar panels / inverters, etc. would be sourced from the EU. In fact, European sourcing could be a requirement of obtaining the EU financing for the project.

All of the engineering, manufacturing and installation / grid connection would be performed by EU workers.

Malta’s residents and visitors would thereafter enjoy clean air, lower healthcare costs, better quality of life, and could say goodbye to toxic and expensive, imported oil.

From 10% to 100% renewable energy within 24 months — now that would demonstrate political and environmental leadership!

Granted, Malta has the smallest electrical grid in the EU. But it’s a place to start, a place to set a baseline for the learning curve to 100% renewable energy on a per country basis, and a place to test out the actual economic inputs vs. outputs, with minimal investment.

By starting with island nations and converting them to 100% renewable energy, solid standalone renewable energy power generation experience is gained, and once completed, can serve as models for standalone systems on the continent.

To get to 50% renewable energy in other EU states requires similar measures but on a larger scale than Malta. (Low interest loans from the EU, requirement to source all equipment, materials, and labour from EU nations, and some amount of renewable energy expertise)

Some European Union nations wouldn’t need all that much investment to make the step up from their planned 2020 targets. Some will already have attained at least 30% renewable energy, assuming they hit their planned targets. Other nations have small populations, and therefore, wouldn’t need all that much capital to hit the 100% mark, let alone a 50% renewable target by 2020.

The Next Step for the EU

During the darkest days of recession in early 1980’s America, newly-elected President Ronald Reagan didn’t appear and suddenly solve America’s economic problems.

He told Americans (very convincingly) that they had it in their power to solve their own economic problems and arranged some temporary loans to Chrysler and other companies — and cheered by his vision and leadership, they responded powerfully — ending America’s recession.

Someone in the EU needs to step up now, leading the charge to improve EU air quality, to lower the rate of illness and premature deaths due to air pollution, to lower the damage to livestock and agriculture, and to concrete and metal infrastructure — thereby creating tens of thousands of well-paying jobs — by insisting on a minimum of 50% renewable energy standard by 2020 for all EU nations.

And that great, overarching vision in itself, will be the thing that EU residents will love, hope for, and willingly agree to do, for the next five years. Neatly ending the EU’s present recession.

Let’s roll up our sleeves, people. We’ve got work to do.

Related Article:

Large Scale Job Sharing Could Prevent a Host of Societal Ills

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Truism: Whenever and wherever the unemployment rate is low anywhere in the world, drug abuse, crime, and homelessness drops.

Jobs prevent the depression that leads to drug abuse, crime, and eventually, homelessness.

Because corporations in North America prefer a high-ish unemployment rate (to guarantee they get the choicest and hungriest applicants, and to ensure a large pool of seasonal labour, and as a device that works to continuously dampen calls for a higher minimum wage) we have the follow-on problems of depression, leading to drug abuse in some cases, which eventually leads to crime and later, homelessness for many of the working poor.

Which results in higher costs to society and it’s the taxpayers who must cover those costs, one way or another

To solve this utterly predictable set of problems, all levels of government should be working with corporations to ensure that corporate needs are met — but without destroying the lives of many people who would frankly, rather be working!

When everyone matters, society works better.

Nordic countries ask; What societal problems?

Sweden has mandatory job sharing in those industries that can’t employ all of their workers. Except for retired people, students, those with chronic illness, or the very wealthy, everyone in the country works for *at least* 6 months of the year. Which neatly prevents such societal ills.

If you’ve ever visited Sweden, you’ll notice nobody lives in dumpsters there

Nordiske-flag Image courtesy of Hansjorn
Nordic flags. Image courtesy of Hansjorn. From left; Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark.

Some industries in Sweden can’t use all of their available workers, so if you’re a worker in that particular industry it simply means that you’re ‘on work’ for 6 months and you’re ‘off work’ for 6 months of the year.

The ‘alternate person’ steps in and does ‘your job’ for 6 months while you’re on mandatory time off. Both people get Unemployment Insurance (UI) from Day 1 of their respective layoff dates.

It’s not like layoffs in North America. It’s more like, “Your scheduled time ‘off work’ is coming up, Anders. So, have you arranged the dates with your temporary replacement? You have? Thank you.”

In Sweden, you ‘own’ your job, you’re responsible for it, and you want to perform well for the company that has given you the responsibility for making sure that ‘your job’ is done properly

Also, even though you’re ‘off work’ for 6 months, you’re still expected to be available to fill that position whenever the alternate worker is ill, or can’t make it to work for any other reason. You like that a lot, because their UI system doesn’t penalize you for kindly making yourself available to the company AND you get to keep the wages you earned that day.

If you’re ‘on work’ for your 6 months and suddenly want a day ‘off work’ to go buy a house, propose to your partner or whatever, you just arrange it with your job sharing partner — and you’re covered. They come in and do your work for you. You inform the company merely out of courtesy that this will be happening. It’s ‘your job’ after all — not the company’s job.

So, let’s say that you’re off work for 6 months and ‘Sven’ (the person doing your job) has a skiing accident and needs 10 days off work to recover, you not only get your regular UI payment, you also get the normal wages for each day that you replaced Sven.

In this hypothetical job sharing scenario, the job of ‘Anders’ and ‘Sven’ is totally covered no matter what, 365 days of the year

Overtime wages? Unknown in Sweden. With one phone call the company simply adds another already trained worker to the project, and can keep them employed any number of days, or until project completion. Then, they send them back home until the company calls again to help with another project.

Everyone has a job, or is on UI for part of the year. Consequently, depression, drug abuse, crime, and homelessness are almost unknown in Sweden

Everyone has a job. Whether you are ‘off work’ for a time, or ‘on work’ for a time — you have a job, you have a place in society, you belong to a community. You may work 100 days per year, you may work 200 days per year, or any number of days between 100 to 365 days per year in Sweden. It depends how busy your particular industry is in that particular year.

The takeaway point is; If you live in Sweden — you’re a worker, you’re a valued person, you’re part of Sweden’s ongoing success, you belong.

When everyone matters — corporations work better, society works better, and the UN scores your country highly on the UN Happiness Index

Corporations like this employment policy, because more employees than they can afford to keep employed year ’round ‘own’ their particular position and over the course of a year, both workers communicate often, to make certain that every single working day of the year is ‘covered’ for the company.

The company doesn’t care which of the two workers are onsite on any given day, because both are eminently qualified and both feel that they ‘own the job’ and are responsible for it. Which is much better for the corporation when compared to only one person owning that job.

What happens in a Swedish company when an employee has time off due to illness, mandatory maternity leave, vacation times, or car trouble?

Nothing. The alternate worker is likely already on the premises doing the job. Utter, boring, Swedish efficiency! Also known as the Nordic Model — a fascinating mix of social and economic policies which has shown steady, predictable results, going on four decades.

The company knows that every work day of the year, each position in the company will be filled by the regular worker or the alternate worker — no matter what!

The inequality in North America is stunning. And there’s no good excuse for it. It’s merely a lack of leadership. Governments are kowtowing to uninspired, faceless, and unaccountable corporations that only care about the bottom line.

But hey, don’t blame the corporations! They’re in business to make a buck — not to solve social problems — that’s the government’s job.

But when the corporations are the ones causing the social problems via their policy of keeping workers hungry for work through a policy of high unemployment, union-busting, threats to export jobs to Asia, downsizing threats and more — that’s when we need to look at a better model.

And in the case of Sweden and the other Nordic countries, a much better model already exists — not just for society, but one that works better for corporations as well.