STS - conferences, IST2012

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Governing private energy consumption for sustainable transitions? Programs and protagonists of an energy regime change in the household in the decade of the oil crises
Sophie Gerber, Karin Zachmann

Last modified: 2012-03-22


In the autumn of 2010 the German Federal Government enacted the program of a so called “Energiewende.” This program set the agenda of a rapid energy transition toward a low carbon society that is based on two major pillars, renewable energies and efficient energy consumption. Neither the program nor its name “Energiewende”, however, is new. Thirty years ago, “Energiewende” was the title of a book whose authors argued that economic growth would not require more energy and that especially nuclear energy should be abandoned and the use of fossil fuels could be significantly curtailed. This book again was but one among many initiatives that aimed at restructuring the existing but in the wake of the first and second oil crisis severely shaken international energy regime. In the United States, President Nixon immediately reacted on the 1973 oil crisis in his “Speech on Energy Policy“ and initiated “Project Independence”, which aimed at America’s energy independence until 1980 and included an appeal to every US citizen to save energy. Similar initiatives had been taken in Europe too. In Germany, research minister Horst Ehmke put forward an energy program and called for more rational energy consumption in 1973. The program embodied the first German overall energy policy concept and included the promotion of domestic energy sources and energy conservation. After the second oil crisis in 1979 private households got even more into focus than in 1973. The then research minister Volker Hauff prepared a draft for an Energy Consumption Act that included a system of rules for energy conservation and especially private energy saving, including a ban of electric stoves. Obviously, the invisible hand of the market was no longer trusted since the draft considered doing away with the highly esteemed freedom of consumer choice.

The paper aims at disclosing transition governance and the beginnings of strategic navigation toward a low carbon society at the very moment when the high energy society was severely challenged for the first time. Thus, the proposed contribution will explore the actors and agendas of an energy transition in the arena of private households and consumption in the decade of the oil crises in Germany in order to offer a starting point for a transnational comparison.