Oeko-Institut celebrates the half-way stage in Germany’s energy turnaround in 2015
2015 marks the half-way stage in Germany’s “energy turnaround” (Energiewende): the transformation of energy systems towards sustainability, with 35 years behind us and another 35 years to go. This is a good opportunity to look back and review progress, and to look forward and identify the challenges that lie ahead. In that spirit, around 200 guests from politics, business and civil society joined Oeko-Institut researchers for a celebration and discussion at the Umspannwerk in Berlin’s Alexanderplatz on 25 March 2015.
Professor Rainer Griesshammer and Dr Felix Christian Matthes from the Oeko-Institut opened the event with an analysis of the citizen’s role in the energy turnaround. Following an appeal by the Oeko-Institut in 1986, some 400 local energy committees were set up around Germany with the aim of promoting renewable energies. Today, around 1.4 million citizens have a stake in wind power installations. However, a number of action groups have recently been set up to campaign against the construction of the “electricity superhighways” that will play a key role in the transformation of our energy systems. The policies pursued by some of the German federal states (Länder) in this context also move Germany in the wrong direction. As Dr Matthes pointed out, what the public lacks at present is a consistent vision, clear objectives and a pathway towards these goals, along with opportunities for consultation and financial participation.
In his speech, Rainer Baake, State Secretary at the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy, identified some of the milestones reached in the energy turnaround: from the publication in 1980 of the Oeko-Institut’s book Energiewende – Wachstum und Wohlstand ohne Erdöl und Uran, the German Government’s commitment to the energy turnaround in 1997, the amendment of Germany’s nuclear industry legislation in 1998 after 12 incidents at Biblis Nuclear Power Plant, the national allocation plan in 2004, and the EU Emission Trading System (EU ETS) Directive, to the stage now reached in the expansion of renewable energies. He also emphasised the important contributions made by the Oeko-Institution to all these milestones.
Panel discussion: the half-way stage?
Attention then turned to the next stage in the energy turnaround, with a panel discussion with Rainer Baake, Vera Brenzel (Head of E.ON’s EU Representative Office), Professor Peter Hennicke (Senior Advisor and former President of the Wuppertal Institute for Climate, Environment and Energy) and Dr Felix Christian Matthes. There was general agreement among the panellists that Germany cannot master the energy turnaround on its own. Rainer Baake and Felix Christian Matthes identified opportunities for cooperation with a number of neighbouring countries in a multi-speed Europe, whereas Eva Brenzel from E.ON viewed the energy turnaround as an international process which is entirely subject to economic forces, with two distinct worlds clearly identifiable. On the one hand, there are the energy-hungry countries such as Russia, China and India: here, solar installations, for example, which take just six months to build, offer considerable advantages in terms of meeting current energy demand compared with gas-fired power plants, whose construction takes 15 years. On the other hand, there are energy-saturated countries, where renewables expansion is steadily squeezing out fossil fuels. In both cases, investment in renewable energies offers major profit-making opportunities for E.ON.
Professor Peter Hennicke criticised what he saw as a lack of attention to energy efficiency. Felix Christian Matthes added that there is considerable scope for action in the energy upgrading of buildings and in the transport sector. With interest rates currently at a record low, investment in a buildings insulation programme is an investment in the future and also offers social welfare benefits: with the prospect of oil prices rising substantially again at some point, support for people on low incomes at this stage may well prove to be worthwhile by alleviating future burdens on the economy.
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