The energy turnaround: half-time, complete success?

Editorial by Michael Sailer, CEO, Oeko-Institut

With the publication of the book Energiewende – Wachstum und Wohlstand ohne Erdöl und Uran in 1980, the Oeko-Institut presented, for the first time, comprehensive scenarios for an alternative energy future. Florentin Krause, Hartmut Bossel and Karl-Friedrich Müller-Reissmann described how growth can be decoupled from the consumption of electricity and other fuels, and identified energy efficiency as the key to long-term reductions in energy demand. This ground-breaking study on energy system transformation – the first of its kind – provoked sometimes highly emotional debates. Since the Oeko-Institut opened its office in Darmstadt in 1980, much of my own work has focused on nuclear power plant safety. My colleagues and I have repeatedly pointed out the weaknesses and potential risks associated with this technology. In the past 35 years, a great many stakeholders have made their own contributions to establishing the concept of energy system transformation on a firm scientific footing, filling it with life, and proposing solutions for sustainable energy use, many of which are now accepted by society at large. In March this year, we invited representatives from politics, associations, business, academia and civil society to join us at a celebratory event to mark “the half-way stage?” in Germany’s energy turnaround.

At the same time, of course, we could not ignore one key question: how much success have we achieved, measured against the goals we set ourselves back in 1980? What still has to be done to make energy system transformation a reality? Which achievements can we celebrate, and which major obstacles lie ahead? These questions are explored in the current issue of eco@work. In a guest article, Dieter Seifried, who worked at the Oeko-Institut for many years, describes how he sees the half-way stage, while the other two articles look back and, above all, look forward to the challenges that are likely to arise in the next 35 years. There is no disputing that we must cut our greenhouse gas emissions to almost zero by 2050 in the interests of the climate. This will require sustained efforts in the power generation industry, together with a more intensive focus on other sectors, such as transport and buildings. In our numerous research projects here at the Oeko-Institut, we will continue to develop fresh and innovative ideas to guide this process now and in future.

I hope you enjoy reading this issue of eco@work.


Michael Sailer
CEO, Oeko-Institut