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What We can Learn From the German Energy Transition

12. august 2015

The main message from Germany is that a transition to clean energy requires a strong vision and clear goals.  Innovation Norway asks German experts about the German Energiewende.

By Senior Adviser Frauke Muth, Innovation Norway

Beautiful summer mountain forest landscape with wind mills

German wind mill. (Photo: Britus/thinkstock)

Norway is currently facing a huge economic and maybe societal transition – but we haven’t quite found out how  to tackle it. We will take a look at Germany, a country which has committed itself to a similarly huge and ambitious project: the energy transition (Energiewende).

After the Fukushima accident in 2011, based on a large consensus among the political parties, the German government decided to go for what now is known as the German energy transition.

This transition consists of two main ambitious goals: to phase-out nuclear power and replace it with other, mostly renewable energies by the year 2022, and to decrease greenhouse emissions by 40 percent within 2020. The idea  is to keep the transition sustainable, environmentally friendly and affordable.

In this video Muth interviews Prof. Dr. Claudia Kemfert, head of the Department of Energy, Traffic and Environment at the German Institute for Economic Research (DIW) and Dr. Patrick Graichen, Executive Director of the German Think Tank Agora Energiewende (Berlin, July 15th and 16th 2015).

It doesn’t take a crisis to initiate a huge transition project

How did Germany generate the necessary support for such a big step?

Unlike other nations, the Germans have for a long time liked the idea of turning away from nuclear power towards renewable energies, says professor Dr. Claudia Kemfert of the German Institute for Economic Research (DIW).

The Green Party has been advocating the phase-out of nuclear power since its foundation in the early eighties, with growing sympathies from Social Democrats and the political left.

A strong vision and the willingness to go one step further

Due to this long-term development, Germans nowadays have a clear vision of the future and are ready to commit to a transformation into an economy and even a society of low carbon, says Dr. Patrick Graichen of the German Think Tank Agora Energiewende.

Recent polls show that 80 percent of the German population still support the energy transformation despite increased electricity costs for the consumers, and that they are even willing to pay more to succeed.

If Norwegians over the last century have built a similarly strong identification with the idea of change and adaptation to new economic conditions, as argued in this article on the history of Innovation Norway, this will provide a solid ground for a transition from an oil-and-gas economy towards an economy marked by a high degree of sustainability and innovation.

Defy lobbying, stick to clear targets

As the energy transition in Germany proceeds, we can see that there is progress where those involved agreed on clear goals  and where these goals were followed up consistently from the beginning, Kemfert says.

German politicians did not manage to set clear targets and instruments in every field of the transition. What made this so difficult? Kemfert points to ambitious initiatives that trigger aggressive lobbying from various sides – particularly where powerful economic interests are affected. This is one of the reasons that some of the objectives will not be achieved within the timeframe given.

With shifting political power after the German national elections, objectives, instruments and responsibilities were altered on the way. This further hindered a consistent and continuous implementation. According to Graichen, one centralized agency should ideally have been tasked with the implementation, and equipped with leaders and staff committed to success.

The transition will affect our lifestyle

The energy transition has already changed the lifestyle in Germany. You often find people discussing, over a glass of beer, which of the green “electricity-mixes” they should subscribe to for their household, and whether to buy photovoltaics for their roof.

Saving energy has become a guiding principle. People even switch off the lights when they leave a room and turn off the heating during the night.

The new economic transition in Norway may also have a visible impact on our daily life. If you want to maintain acceptance in society, make sure you provide good and transparent information about the purpose and costs of measures affecting the consumer, says Kemfert. Big changes requires a good flow of information.

A market-based implementation

A big transition also requires financial investments. The way to get private investors on board is, according to Graichen, a balanced approach with market-based instruments, combined with a clear and credible regulatory framework that gives investors certainty.

Is there another specific advice when it comes to implementing the Norwegian transition? Try out piloting a solution in one region before adopting a one-size fits all-concept to the whole country, Graichen recommends.

Norway can do it. What we need is a strong vision, clear goals and the will to learn from the experiences of others.

 

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