As the German government rethinks its commitment to the renewable-energy revolution, two women in their late 20′s are making a bid to buy the city of Berlin’s electric power grid.
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The objective: transform today’s dirty, centralized power grid into tomorrow’s clean, distributed power grid.
Berlin’s electricity grid, which has an estimated value of about $1.5 billion, goes on sale roughly once every other decade.
The concession to run the grid is currently held by Swedish energy giant Vattenfall and is due to expire later this year. Anyone with about half a billion dollars can bid on the rights to manage the network for the next concession cycle.
That is what Luise Neumann-Cosel, a 28-year-old geo-ecologist, and Arwen Colell, a political scientist in her mid-20′s, want to do.
“If we’re going to make a difference, then our only option is to buy the whole of the Berlin electricity grid,” Colell and Neumann-Cosel told The Guardian.
To do so, Neumann-Cosel and Colell started a grassroots initiative in 2011 called “Citizens’ Energy Berlin” to raise the necessary capital needed to pay for the concession.
Citizens’ Energy Berlin’s website describes the co-operative organization like so: “We are a free, cross-party coalition of citizens who are committed to a sustainable and democratic energy policy in Berlin. In our cooperative, each member has one vote – regardless of the amount of his deposit.”
In addition to governance rights, investors are entitled to share in any financial returns. Citizens’ Energy Berlin boasts more than 1,000 members and has raised more than $6.5 million.
“The role of the distribution grid is changing with renewable energies,” said Colell. “It used to be the last mile between the large coal or gas fired-generation power plants and the consumer. The task was pretty straight forward: get the energy to the people.”
Transforming the last mile is the critical objective.
“[It] needs to shift from just being the last mile between a huge power plant and the consumer to being a smart, decentralized and adaptive structure,” Colell told The Guardian.
While the ambitious bid to run the Berlin electric power grid may seem like a long shot, it has attracted enough support to pass the laugh test.
Given the scale of the organization’s ambitions, this seems like an impressive accomplishment by itself.