The future of energy production is set to be a crunch issue in this year’s big elections in France and Germany. The current leaders want to reduce nuclear and fossil-fuelled power. But could all that change? For crowdfunding platforms specialising in renewables, there’s lots at stake
“We’re watching the election very closely. That’s for sure,” said Alex Raguet, CEO and founder of Lumo, a French crowdfunding platform for renewable energies. “All of the candidates don’t have the same view. Most of them want to continue to push for renewable energy and some don’t.”
France is heavily dependent on nuclear power and, plagued with problems with some of its fleet, the country is said to currently be subsidising its needs with fossil fuels and imported power. Outgoing president, Socialist François Hollande, has been keen to reduce nuclear use in favour of renewable sources – but has struggled.
“It is very difficult to implement. And what is going to be the political will for the next five years?” questions Raguet. “Renewable energy is going to take over because it’s the best choice. It’s about how to implement it as fast as possible and how to manage the existence of 75 percent of electricity in France still coming from nuclear.”
Controversy-hit conservative François Fillon, picked as the Republicans’ presidential candidate, says he wants to develop “all forms of clean energy, including nuclear energy,” adding “I will aim for the abolition of fossil-fuelled electricity generation.” In his environment policy document, he also asserts that France has the assets to be an “industrial champion” of the environment and low-carbon energy.
Independent election candidate and former French economy minister, Emmanuel Macron, said in a recent Twitter video post, that he has “no doubt” about climate change and described US President Donald Trump as being “extremely sceptical.” Addressing those in the US working to tackle environmental issues, he said: “Please come to France… We want people working on climate change, energy, renewables and new technologies.”
Far-right presidential candidate, Marine Le Pen – who has been making gains in the polls – says she wants to make nuclear energy safer, to maintain and modernise the industry. This alongside boosting renewable energy sources. But in her 144 presidential “commitments” she sets out that there should be a moratorium on wind power.
Whatever the outcome of the upcoming election, Raguet thinks crowdfunding will help the country make a “big shift” to greener sources. “French citizens want this transition to renewable energy and they can express it through crowdfunding,” he explains.
The Lumo platform is collaborating with the European CrowdFundRES project, which is aiming to unleash the full potential of the crowdfunding market for renewable energy projects – forming policy recommendations and identifying key drivers for growth.
“Some of the election candidates have already been very proactive in the past about crowdfunding. Emmanuel Macron was at the Ministry of Industry when crowdfunding got big in France. But some are less kind in pushing for this financing scheme,” stressed Raguet.
Polls predict Le Pen will win the election’s first round in April, but then be defeated by Macron – the favourite to take the presidency – in a May run-off vote.
In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel is bidding for a fourth term in September’s national election. Plans to phase out nuclear power are not expected to stir much political debate, but there is chatter around the future of coal plants and brown coal mining.
“We have a lot of fossil fuel power generation which is costly and we need to get rid of that,” explained Uwe Lebelt, an independent crowdfunding and clean tech consultant in Berlin. “All the major parties are pro-renewables. You do have the right-wing parties coming up which are against renewables, but it’s normal populism, because it’s easy to complain about ugly wind turbines. But, in Germany, it’s not as dangerous as in the UK or France or in the US.”
Amid efforts to move to a decarbonised economy, German Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel recently said that capping energy costs and hammering out inefficiencies in renewable energy development must remain a priority. But he also fired a warning shot over moving too quickly to phase out coal-fired generation and domestic brown coal mining, in terms of protecting jobs.
“We already have more than 35 percent of electricity produced by renewables. But we have seen a slowdown in the growth,” said Lebelt. He attributes the slowdown to a cutting of subsidies and the fact that Germany wants to push the energy transition in other sectors too, for instance partnering with industry in furthering electric cars.
“I hope that the green party will have a bigger role in the future government because even though I think Angela Merkel is pro-renewables, her party still isn’t so much. We could do much more, especially giving smaller projects like co-operatives and communities – projects that are very suitable for crowdfunding – better access to the market,” said Lebelt.
Crowdfunding, alongside more traditional sources of finance, make for a strong market in Germany, he said. “You have very low interest rates for renewable energy or energy efficiency projects. You get very good competitive loans from KfW, the state development bank, and you can finance up to 100 percent of the project with that.”
“Crowdfunding, on the other hand, has some advantages for communities. If, for example, you have a city, then there will be a lot of investment in energy efficiency and renewables, especially solar. So it’s a good chance for the city to engage and connect with their citizens.”
Whoever the French and German elections bring to power, crowdfunding platforms are confident they will continue to retain their place in the market – helping Europe to realise its green energy ambitions.
By Damon Embling
Photo credits: Pedro Lastra
22 February 2017