Energy Cooperatives in Germany

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  • Report: The energy transition to energy democracy. Power to the people. Final results oriented report of the REScoop 20-20-20 Intelligent Energy Europe project. By Dirk Vansintjan.


The energy cooperative boom and the energy transition from 2000 to the present

By Dirk Vansintjan:

"A number of EU Member States supported the deployment of renewable energy in such a way that most of the investments came from citizens and citizen groups. This is especially the case in countries such as Denmark and Germany, with more than half of such projects being financed in this way.

In Germany, the Feed in Tariff encouraged citizens, farmers and community power initiatives such as REScoops to invest in the energy transition. By the end of 2012, 46% of the total installed renewable energy capacity, was in the hands of citizens, farmers included. Only 5% was owned by the ‘big four’ power companies.

Each year DGRV, the German Cooperative and Raiffeisen Confederation, conducts a survey on energy cooperatives in Germany. The resulting report gives us clear insight into the significance of, the growth in, and the uncertainty now being caused by a changing government policy. On the next pages, we are publishing a part of the report with the approval of DGRV.

In 2014, for the third successive year, DGRV conducted a study of energy cooperatives based on a questionnaire. Here are the most important findings. 718 new energy cooperatives were set up within member associations of the DGRV since 2006. 216 of these coops took part in the survey. All of these were founded between 2006 and 2013. Older energy cooperatives were not examined in the survey.

In 2012, 129 energy cooperatives were set up within member associations of the DGRV. Although this is still a significant number, high levels of uncertainty and restraint have been detected among founders and representatives of energy cooperatives in recent months due to the uncertain legal framework. The DGRV estimates that investments of around 300 million euro were postponed in 2014. The number of new energy cooperatives reflects this uncertainty. Since a peak in 2011 with 167 newly established cooperatives, the numbers have been declining. In the first quarter of 2014, only 17 new energy cooperatives were founded, a decrease of nearly 50% compared to the first quarter of 2013.

The structure of energy cooperatives is quite stable compared to previous years. On average, new energy cooperatives have 43 members. The number of founding members varies between 5 and 427. Membership tends to grow quickly after a cooperative has been set up. At the time the survey was conducted, average membership had grown almost fivefold to 198. Around 60% of cooperatives have between 50 and 200 members; only 16% have fewer than 50 members. Most energy cooperatives are owned by citizens: more than 90% of the cooperative members are private individuals.

Cooperatives enable people of relatively modest means who may not own a roof of their own to take part in the energy transition. Shares in some cooperatives can be bought for less than 100 euro. The average minimum shareholding in an energy cooperative is 738 euro.

Nearly three-fourths of the cooperatives enable members to participate with shares of less than 500 euro. On average, individual members have a shareholding of 3,298 euro. The average shareholding in two thirds of the cooperatives is between 1,000 and 6,000 euro.

Business activities of energy cooperatives in Germany

Most energy cooperatives are in the business of generating electricity from renewable resources, particularly from photovoltaic systems. 16% of the cooperatives produce energy for heating from renewable energy sources (biomass) that is used to supply households from a cooperative-run heating network. On average, cooperatives have an installed capacity of 1,034 kWp. This capacity is distributed across 7 plants on average, which means that each plant has an average installed capacity of around 150 kWp.

Economic data

Energy cooperatives have an average seed capital of just under 686,000 euro. At the time the survey was conducted, cooperatives had invested on average just under 1.9 million euro in renewable energies. Energy cooperatives have a comparatively high average proportion of equity: 54%. Almost one in four cooperatives invests with no debt capital at all. 64% of the outside capital borrowed comes from cooperative banks.

Energy coops generate an annual turnover of around 337,000 euro on average. One out of two cooperatives paid out a dividend last year. These dividends averaged 4.26%.

Over 145,000 people in Germany have already invested around 470 million euro of equity in energy cooperatives. In total, cooperatives have already invested around 1.35 billion euro in renewable energies.

Cooperatives produce 830,000 MWh of electricity, enough to supply approximately 230,000 average households. Based purely on the figures, this means that new energy cooperatives already produce significantly more electricity than is required to supply the households of all their members." (