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Day Number Three

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Updated: 5/19/2014 2:00 pm

Our third day in Germany, and time for frühstück again.  This morning's special guest is Hans-Ulrich Klose, former member of the Bundestag representing the SPD party, former chairman of the German-American Parliamentary  group, and Mayor of Hamburg from 1974 to 1981.  Klose has seen it all, and is quite comfortable providing insights to groups such as ours. 

One of Klose's biggest concerns with the near-term future, is changing  demographics stemming from Germany's low birth rate.  The Energiewende does not come cheap, and there are fewer and fewer people to pay for it.  Klose would like to make it easier for immigrants--largely Turks--to be assimilated  into German society, while at the same time raising the retirement age.   Currently Germany is moving from 65 to 67 as the age for receiving a  pension.  Klose could see raising that up to 69...though he recognizes this  may have to be adjusted depending on the occupation;  Office workers  potentially have much longer careers than unskilled laborers.

The first formal presentation today was at Germany's Ministry of the  Environment.  We heard from Dr. Urban Rid (Director General for Renewable  Energy, Climate Policy, European and International Environment Policy) and  Stephanie Pfahl (Head of Unit for Offshore Wind Energy).

While there has been a lot of talk about the sudden move by Angela Merkel to  phase out nuclear energy following the 2011 Fukushima disaster in Japan, this is actually a return to a previous policy.  Back in 2000 under Chancellor  Gerhard Schröder, the SPD/Green Coalition had decided to phase out nuclear power  plants in Germany by 2022.  But after the CDU assumed power, Angela Merkel  added another 12 years to that plan in 2010.  When Merkel announced a  return to the Schröder plan after Fukushima, some saw it as a realization of the  dangers of nuclear power, while others perceived a political strategy, getting out ahead of the issue rather than being overwhelmed by it come election  time. 

Whatever the case, eight of the state's nuclear reactors were shut down immediately, with the remaining nine scheduled to be phased out by no later than  2022.  This became a key factor affecting the Energiewende, as coal was then used to bridge the gap...which works against plans to decrease greenhouse gas emissions.

Wind turbines are becoming an increasingly large component in Germany's  energy mix--currently about 12%.  While wind power has gained widespread  acceptance among the general public in Germany, there are problems.   Some segments of the population find the turbines aesthetically objectionable,  there are concerns with destruction among some species of migratory birds, and  the right-of-way costs vary.  Most of the turbines are located on private property,  with the government contracting for its use.  Increasingly, the country is  turning to offshore wind farms in the North Sea.  Offshore presents its own set of difficultiess, the largest of which is probably transmission.  As noted  before, the greatest rate of consumption is in southwestern Germany, and  currently the transmission network is insufficient to handle the load.   Germany's Federal Requirement Plan Act (adopted last year) will provide financing to plan and implement grid expansion to carry the power from the north  to the south.  There are also problems with the turbines themselves, withstanding the harsh environment of the North Sea.  We were shown several different models, including monopile (one very deep hole for the base), tripod  and jacket.  All three are currently in wide use. 

My eyes lit up when I saw that our lunch meeting was at the Wuppertal  Institute for Climate, Environment and Energy.  The first time I ever came  to Germany (in 2000), Wuppertal was my starting point.  That's because at the time, Las Vegas was developing what would soon be the newest monorail system in the world, while Wuppertal is home to the oldest monorail system in the world--the Schwebebahn ("Floating Train").  So my introduction to Germany was shooting a comparison news story in Wuppertal. 

However, this year's trip had nothing to do with the Schwebebahn, so it was back to climate.  A central mission of the Wuppertal Institute has been to translate scientific concepts into a politically and economically workable form and language.  They maintain that it can be more lucrative for energy suppliers--and beyond that, for their customers--to invest in energy-saving measures than in new power stations.  Our guest speakers were Samuel Höller  (Research-Fellow--Future Energy and Mobility Structures), Dr. Daniel Vallentin (Deputy Head Berlin Office) and Timon Wehnert (Project Coordinator). 

Wuppertal is located in the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW), which includes the Rhein-Ruhr industrial heartland, home to most of Germany's  coal supply and producer of 30% of the country's energy supply.  NRW has its own climate laws in addition to the national mandate, and intends to reduce  greenhouse gas emissions 25% by 2020 and 80% by 2050 (using 1990 emissions as a  baseline).  Here once more, the issues of US fracking and elimination of nuclear power consumption in Germany have caused challenges.  In order to fill the void left by phasing out nuclear power while remaining competitive with the United States, NRW is producing more coal than ever.  Specifically "Lignite"--this was a new word to me, though not to most in the group.   Lignite is a particularly insidious form of coal, as it relates to the  environment.  It is made from naturally compressed peat, and supplies relatively low heat compared to its volume.  However, Lignite is readily  available in NRW and other parts of Europe.  It's a primary energy source for many Eastern European countries, and accounts for about a quarter of German household energy consumption.

This meeting transitioned seamlessly into a presentation by Agora, a think tank charged with finding ways to successfully implement the Energiewende.   Agora is a non-profit foundation funded by the Mercator Foundation and the European Climate Foundation to the tune of Twelve Million Euros (about  $16,400,000).  We heard from Deputy Director Patrick Graichen and Head of Communications Carel Carlowitz Mohn.

The Agora presentation began with a reiteration of some central Energiewende  goals:
1)  Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions 40% by 2020 and 80-95% by  2050.
2)  Increase efficiency of energy use 20% by 2020 and 50% by  2050.
3)  Transition to Renewable Energy consumption 35% by 2020,  80& by 2050.
4)  Transition to Renewable share of final energy use  18% by 2020, 60% by 2050.

There are other potential renewable resources, but the main targets for  replacing fossil fuels are wind and solar.  The Energiewende's challenges  include minimizing costs and balancing supply with demand.  Since wind and  solar are obviously not available 24/7, some amount of energy will continue to come from conventional power plants for the foreseeable future.  At the same time, the Energiewende seeks to maximize the efficiency of the grid, since that is more cost-effective than mass energy storage systems.  However,  individual households and businesses may be incentivized to add battery storage through savings in taxes and fees.

From here, it was on to the Federal Chancellery--Angela Merkel's  offices.  We did not expect to see Chancellor Merkel, but we were told there was always a chance she just might happen to be passing through and pop her head in.  Instead, we were given a presentation by Dr. Susanne Parlasca  (Head of the Energy Policy Unit) and Dr. Bodo Linscheid (Head of the Unit on  Environment and Sustainable Development).  Security at the Chancellery was  tight, as you can imagine.  This was one of several meetings where I was  required to remove a leg brace I've been wearing while recovering from an early  November knee surgery.  Passports were examined and pockets emptied.

This presentation was somewhat low-key.  Both Linscheid and Parlasca had pronounced German accents and were soft-spoken.  It was a bit difficult to follow, but there was some discussion of carbon emissions trading--the idea of having a cap on total emissions allowed for the country and/or European Union, and then allowing firms to--in effect--buy the right to pollute, by providing  the financial incentives for other corporations to reduce their share.  Ms.  Parlasca also clarified details of the plan to shut down the nation's nuclear power plants, noting that the wording had been changed slightly.  At first, the plan had been to close the last plants in 2022.  That was revised to  say no later than 2022, recognizing the likelihood that most if not all plants  would close earlier, as it becomes a financial problem to continuing supplying  plants slated for closure.

The last presentation before dinner proved interesting, and ended up as more  of a round-table discussion than a formal presentation.  Deekling Arndt Advisor in Communication Gmbh is essentially a public relations and marketing  firm.  In this case, they were representing the interests of companies who  were not as keen on the Energiewende.  For example, coal-producing firms whose market share was destined to diminish if the Energiewende went as planned.

Head of the Berlin Office Tiglet Aslan was by no means strident in criticism  of the Energiewende, however.  In fact, he noted that the German people were solidly behind the concept and that his firm had no problem with it.   Aslan's formal presentation consisted of one slide, as he pointed out several  times with a smile.  He kept coming back to various aspects of the single slide to illustrate different parts of his position.  The slide showed a road with marks showing how far Germany has come with the Energiewende thus far, but ends with a bridge and no date on the far side, indicating it is unclear how  long it will take to reach that goal.  Aslan's position is that the Energiewende is a great idea, but that enthusiasm has carried it beyond rational thought in many cases, and that his firm simply wants a more realistic discussion of how to achieve the  Energiewende's goals.

Dinner on this night was back once more at the Brasserie am Gendarmenmarkt,  walking distance from our hotel.  The speaker was a rather young looking  Dr. Philipp Steinberg of the SPD political party, who is also adviser to its  Chairman, Sigmar Gabriel.  Mr. Gabriel was unavailable, as he was involved in hammering out final details of the Grand Coalition discussed earlier, which was scheduled for a vote in just a few days.  Steinberg explained the voting process, which was unprecedented for Germany, between Angela  Merkel's CDU and the opposition SPD.  A tentative agreement had resulted  from the election of November 27th, where the CDU and its partner FDP had failed  to get 50% of the vote.  However, the SDP was allowing all 480,000 of its  members a chance to read the 180-page coalition agreement and vote on it before  the Grand Coalition would become formal.  Steinberg was optimistic about  the agreement (which was in fact ratified a few days later), and laughed that he  did not even want to think about what would happen if it failed.

A few of our group joined Steinberg out on the town for another hour or so  after dinner.  That sounded fun...but by then I had already retired to the Westin Grand.



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