As the four-day Renewables 2004 conference kicks off in Bonn Tuesday amid international concern over surging oil prices, Germany focuses attention on boosting use of alternative resources.
Just one of several ways to generate renewable energy
Over 2,500 experts from 130 countries arrived in the former German capital to blow fresh wind into the future of environmental protection.
With up to 2 billion people in the world still without access to any sort of electricity, renewable resources are seen first and foremost as a way of alleviating poverty in developing countries and reducing their dependency on expensive oil imports.
Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul, Germany's minister for development and technical cooperation
As Middle East unrest continues to push oil prices higher, Germany's Development Minister Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul has stressed that "anyone who thinks we should not be dependent on an unstable region like the Middle East should ensure energy sources are diversified."
The industrialized countries are slowly getting the message. As the conference kicked off on June 1, participants agreed that there are already promising signs that solar, wind, geothermal, hydroelectric and biomass power may soon flourish in the emerging economies of the world.
Reason for optimism
Norbert Gorißen, head of international affairs with Germany's Environment Ministry, told Deutsche Welle that the various preparatory conferences held in the run-up to Renewables 2004 had given plenty of reason for optimism:
"Latin American and Caribbean countries agreed on a regional target of 10 percent of primary energy consumption to come from renewable energies by the year 2020," he said, adding that "in Asia, a lot of countries agreed to do individually in their national programs more on renewable energies."
Gorißen is also quick to observe that "many countries - whether it's Thailand, China, Cambodia and the Philippines - already have their individual programs."
The case for renewables
Such initiatives are long overdue. Energy poverty is a severe handicap for rural communities. Without electricity, many are unable to set up businesses or provide light for schools and hospitals. One big advantage of renewable energies -- such as solar, wind and hydroelectric power -- is their independence from centralized electricity grids and big city power stations.
Michael Hofmann is in charge of multilateral co-operation at Germany's Development Ministry. He says that the developing world already uses renewable energies -- but of the wrong type. "In most cases, this is a very traditional type of renewable energy such as biomass," he says.
"This means wood is chopped down, which creates a lot of environmental destruction." He points out that "in a country like Uganda, you have renewables in the range of over 90 percent, and what we need is a modern type of renewables, that will then mean that these countries would achieve 10 or 15 percent of renewables of the second or third generation."
Health, gender and efficient energy
The environment isn't the only priority. Promoting renewables is also a health issue. Smoke pollution caused by inefficient in-door cooking stoves, for example, leads to some million deaths a year.
It's a gender issue too. Women in developing countries spend up to a third of their working life collecting scarce fire wood. Along with photovoltaic installations and small-scale hydroelectric plants, Germany's Development Ministry is promoting cleaner conventional stoves along with solar stoves in Africa and Asia.
German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder stands behind renewable energy.
At the 2002 Johannesburg summit, German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder pledged €500 million for renewable energy projects in developing countries, and a further €500 million to promoting energy efficiently. Part of the funds are aimed at charting where precisely the huge potential of solar, wind and geothermal power can be tapped in the world.