We could not have picked a better day for the Tagesspiegel DebateEnergy Talk #2. On November 24, while the Social Democrats, Greens, and Free Democrats were meeting in Berlin to make the final detailed adjustments to their coalition agreement to get to the next government. And while more and more information about the agreement leaked out in the media, prominent guests from the energy sector came together to discuss the challenges that the new German government will face in relation to the energy transition.
At the start of the live broadcast, Jakob Schlandt, managing editor of Tagesspiegel Background Energie & Klima and the moderator of the talk, introduced the subject of the debate and, at the same time, asked his editor Susanne Ehlerding for the latest news from Berlin. However, she then had to return immediately to her research. In her view, the UN COP26 climate conference in Glasgow produced better results because the climate damage in the southern hemisphere was becoming more obvious. “This is getting the discussion moving.”
The brief opening talk was then given by Klaus-Dieter Maubach, CEO of Uniper SE. He made it clear that his company, which operates coal- and gas-fired power stations, among other things, supported the Paris climate agreement. Ambitious targets have been set, for example with regard to hydrogen technology, but natural gas will still be needed in the future as a reliable back-up for renewable energies in order to guarantee the security of supply.
After this, the discussion began, with moderator Jakob Schlandt frequently giving details of the talks on the coalition agreement as they trickled out. The panel was made up of prominent experts in the field: Kerstin Andreae, chair of the executive board of the German Association of Energy and Water Industries (BDEW), Rainer Baake, director of the Climate Neutrality Foundation, Stefan Kapferer, CEO of 50Hertz Transmission GmbH, and Andreas Kuhlmann, CEO of the German Energy Agency (dena).
Surprisingly, all the panelists agreed on how it important it is for us to push ahead with the energy transition. Although the members of the new coalition government have set challenging targets, these are achievable if the right action is taken. Andreae, who was a Green Party member of the German parliament in a previous life, noted that the coalition agreement takes an “ambitious approach” to the climate crisis. Baake’s views were similar, and he explained that the electricity sector in particular needs “massive decarbonization.” The transition must happen three times as fast, otherwise “we will be driven rather than being the drivers.”
A back-up for coal
Stefan Kapferer from 50Hertz called for the energy grids to be included in all the discussions about the measures to be taken. He explained that “a back-up is needed for the coal-fired power stations,” as they are gradually shut down over the years to come, but the supply networks must always be taken into consideration. Kuhlmann, the CEO of dena, believes that the coalition parties have a lot of catching up to do. “Many things fell by the wayside” during the last legislative period and these must now be implemented by the new coalition government.
A replacement is needed for the time when we are no longer using fossil fuels. Andreae, head of the BDEW, hoped to see reliable policies being introduced for the development of renewable energies and the future hydrogen-ready gas-fired power stations that will be needed to safeguard the supply and put a cap on the electricity price. “Companies need to feel confident before they are prepared to invest in power stations.”
Despite the widespread criticism of the results of COP26, which many people regarded as not being sufficiently bold, Kuhlmann believes that positive steps have been taken. The climate conference has introduced changes that have set the world off on a better path. “In my view, COP26 was a positive development.” But, as Andreae explained at the end of a lively debate, even if the expansion of renewable energy generation goes the way that the coalition parties are hoping, this will not be enough. Without storage technologies for wind and solar energy, all the efforts planned for the next few years will be of little use.
Click here to watch the full stream of the conference: