Dr. Jansen, what is your assessment of the German approach to restructuring the energy system?
In many respects, Germany is a pioneer in the field of renewable energy and is seen as such on the international stage, including in Great Britain. The early introduction of subsidies for wind and solar power, for example, opened up a great deal of potential, including the creation of jobs and the development of industrial capacity for renewable energy systems and of foreign exports, which Germany is still benefiting from today. However, the restructuring of the German energy system is still heavily focused on the electricity sector. I believe that this is going well, because ultimately it does amount to one-third of the emissions that need to be reduced. But there are indications of problems with the expansion of the grid and, until now, the supply bottlenecks have been resolved with the help of other European countries.
What are the particularly good features of the German approach?
Germany is fundamentally on the right track and is one of the leading players in renewable energy on the international stage.
What could have been done better in your view?
Germany did less well with the phase-out of coal. It took a long time and consensus politics delayed the structural change. A lot of money was wasted, for example on compensation payments for the shutdown of the power stations. By contrast, the phase-out of coal in Great Britain was completed in only five years and is not being dragged out until 2038. Because the fact is that coal and, in particular, brown coal is the energy source that causes most harm to the environment. At a time of climate change when there are wildfires in the forests of Greece, I cannot understand this protracted policy. The climate crisis is a bigger issue than structural change.
What route is Great Britain taking to achieve climate neutrality?
In comparison with the Germans, the British have been less dogmatic and will not be relying solely on renewable energy. Great Britain has chosen a different approach and asked itself one central question: What is the most cost-effective way of pushing ahead with decarbonization? The fact that the answer was renewable energy is pure chance. Around 10 or 15 years ago, things could have gone quite differently in Great Britain. In addition, the British regard nuclear power as zero-emission electricity and the British government is subsidizing innovative nuclear technologies. There are plans to build new, third-generation pressurized water reactors here. Furthermore, in the field of nuclear expertise there are synergies with the military. But in reality, things are different. There are currently no companies willing to build new nuclear power plants. One reason for this is that energy can be generated by offshore wind farms for just under a third of the price.
What opportunities and risks does this transformation present for Great Britain?
Great Britain is a leading player in offshore wind energy and that is unlikely to change. I also have no doubt that this is the right approach, but 40 gigawatts from wind power by 2030 is an ambitious target, because it means quadrupling the offshore capacity. Developing industrial production capacity in this area represents an opportunity, because in the past Great Britain has deindustrialized on a large scale. The major risk is Brexit. This creates uncertainties as a result of currency fluctuations and supply bottlenecks, which in turn cause problems for the construction of modern wind farms. The other risk here is the Victorian housing stock, which is difficult to insulate. However, this is an important consideration for the decarbonization of heating systems. In Germany, good progress is being made with heat pump technology. Great Britain still needs to think carefully about this, but in contrast to Germany it is already looking ahead to the use of hydrogen technology in buildings.
How can European countries pool their individual strengths to combat climate change as effectively as possible?
For me, the essential consideration is to set up international supply chains, because we are in a race against time to make progress as quickly and as cheaply as possible with key technologies such as batteries and wind and solar power. For instance, I do not think that every country should establish its own offshore industry and manufacture all the components. We need to take a more European and connected approach and focus on cooperation and joint large-scale projects.
Dr. Malte Jansen has been carrying out research into renewable energies at the Center of Environmental Policy at Imperial College London since 2018. He is one of the founders of Power Swarm, a network for academics, industry and government experts working on power system transformation. He is also an expert in renewable and conventional power plant technology, energy market design, econometric modeling, and sustainable energy engineering and wind power forecasting. Previously he was a consultant at E4tech and worked for five years in the research team at the Fraunhofer IWES (now IEE) in Germany with a focus on energy market design and markets for system services. Jansen has a doctorate in energy economics and wrote his thesis on the economics of wind and solar in markets for power system reserves. He holds degrees in engineering and economics.