23.07.20 “Corona is accelerating developments that we didn’t expect for several years” Hannah Meisters • 4 min.

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What is corona affecting the energy transition? For answers, we turned to people who think about the issue on a daily basis. Episode 1: Run Zhang of Agora Energiewende, a Berlin-based think tank.

What’s your job?

I joined Agora Energiewende as a project manager this past February. Agora has around 50 experts studying various aspects of the energy transition. About 20 of us are in the Team International, which looks at South Korea, Indonesia, Russia, and a number of other countries. I’m Chinese and work with two colleagues in Beijing on energy issues in China and elsewhere in the region.

What are you working on now?

An easy-to-understand overview of China’s energy sector. Working remotely and conducting online meetings have become part of our daily routine. We often confer with experts in other countries or with colleagues who are travelling. Still, I usually go to the office and meet some of my colleagues there. So Corona hasn’t changed my work that much. However, my colleagues in Beijing wanted to come to Berlin for a few weeks in March to get to know us better and to discuss our work for the months ahead. Corona prevented that: one colleague couldn't come at all, and the other had to leave early and then spend two weeks in quarantine in a hotel in Beijing. That wasn’t fun. Now I organize quite a few online meetings to make up for the cancelled in-person meetings.

How else has corona affected you and your colleagues?

Even after the restrictions were relaxed, far fewer employees than usual come to the office. We want to minimize risks. We’ve also learned to appreciate the flexibility of working from home. But to discuss important issues we now meet in person again. Life for my colleagues in China is beginning to return to normal. They go to the office every day and can go shopping without restrictions. Until things are that way here, my Team International colleagues and I meet online each morning at 9.30 for a quick chat and a cup of coffee—just like we used to in the office.

How will the corona crisis change energy markets?

It will accelerate some developments that we didn’t expect for several years. For example, lower electricity consumption has rendered many coal-fired power plants superfluous. They’ll be replaced by gas-fired power plants, which are more flexible. Also, gas is currently a lot cheaper than coal, although I obviously can’t say whether this trend is permanent.

How do you feel about the months ahead?

In Beijing the second corona wave is already looming. If a vaccine becomes available, people will be able to go about their lives despite the virus. Until then, it’s best to be careful without being anxious.

What has surprised you most about the corona period?

The wide range of opinions about what life will be like after corona. It doesn’t make me terribly optimistic about the possibility of social cohesion.

Prior to joining Agora Energiewende, Run Zhang-Class worked for a Chinese energy company as Country Manager Germany and for a Berlin start-up where she led the digital solution development projects. In the meantime Run was involved in non-profit projects in the field of energy and humanity. She also gained experience in the oil and gas industry in projects in Asia, the Middle East and North Africa for China's largest oil and gas company. Run holds a Master's degree in Business Administration with a focus on European management.


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