Collaboration is Key to a Successful Energy Transition

Editor’s Note: This post is part of the on-going collaboration between S&S and GreenBuzz to promote increased dialogue between sustainability practitioners, academic experts, and the general public. GreenBuzz chapters in different cities coordinate on-the-ground events for a word-of-mouth driven community of professionals engaged in sustainability, bringing sustainability leaders together to connect with each other and to discuss specific sustainability topics. S&S will publish excerpts, summaries, and discussions generated by these events in order to facilitate on-going debate and make the information presented at these events available to a world-wide audience.


The Fukushima incident in 2011 triggered some of the biggest changes in German’s energy politics in the last thirty years. With the aim of building a secure, environmentally sound and economically prosperous future, Germany has renewed its focus on converting its energy supply away from conventional energy – including accelerating plans to close all nuclear power plants – towards renewable energy sources.

The acceleration is supported by the introduction of the compact energy transition law which targets 2022 as the date that the final nuclear power plant in the country will be shuttered. Further, the law calls for 60% of all energy to be renewable by 2050. The transition will be supported by the renewable energy law (EEG), which supports renewables through economic instruments and the grid expansion acceleration act (NABEG) supporting decentralized grids.

So far, many targets have been met: Renewable energy has become an important power source, energy is used more efficiently and economic output has increased without increases in energy use. Yet, the transition in Germany is far from complete. Only 25-30% of German energy is generated from renewables.

In contrast, in 2012, more than ten European countries, amongst them Ireland, Portugal and Croatia, generated a higher ratio of their power from renewables than Germany. Although very different in many respects, the energy sector in all of these countries shares one attribute: ownership of the energy industry has shifted from large corporations to smaller companies, and even individual citizens. As opposed to building and running a coal or nuclear plant, which can only be realized by huge and wealthy firms, renewables can be produced on rooftops by nearly everyone. In Germany, the energy industry, which has barely changed for the past 100 years, now has to cope with changing politics, external pressure, new market players and consumers who are increasingly concerned where their electricity comes from.

At the second Sustainability Panel on February 25th 2016, organized by GreenBuzz Berlin, representatives from RWE, Naturstrom, Büro F, Ecofys Germany and Climate-KIC, discussed effective measures to facilitate the Energiewende and the outlook of Germany’s energy transition. Among speakers there was a clear consensus: the energy transition in Germany is happening. Nevertheless, there is still a whole lot to do: “The spirit of Fukushima is gone. People think the transition is accomplished but this is not yet the case”, says Florian Simon from Naturstrom. According to Dr. Corinna Klessmann, Principal Consultant at Ecofys Germany, “the biggest challenge is to get through the WHOLE transition.”

This means that all stakeholders have to get, and then be kept, involved. For the energy transition to be an ecological and economic success story, the power supply must remain safe and affordable. The goals of energy companies, new market players and citizens have to be aligned. That alignment will be a challenge.

On one hand, the energy transition could bring changes and losses, especially to traditional industry players (e.g., coal mines). On the other hand, it implies great opportunities for start-ups, citizens and companies that could not have played a role in the energy market before.

So, how can all these players collaborate to make it happen?

Several examples may serve to answer that question. One is VKU, a representation of Germany’s municipal economy that connects different energy providers in Germany. Notably, municipal utilities drive the energy transition on the ground in form of transregional cooperation such as KommunalPartner, regional cooperation such as SUN, cooperation between municipalities and its utilities or transregional energy providers. These partnerships distribute costs and larger investments in wind and solar parks are enabled through shared risk.

The benefits of collaboration go beyond the energy sector in a single country. Indeed, there are several European initiatives trying to facilitate cross-border cooperation. The European Network of Transmission System Operators for Electricity (ENTSO-E) put in place Regional Security Coordination Initiatives (RSCIs) to improve coordination among transmission system operators jointly manage grids across countries. This is particularly relevant as system operators must deal with the increase of non-on-demand renewables in their individual grids.

Cross-sectoral collaborations are also becoming more significant as reductions in power demand can ease the management challenges of a grid reliant on renewables. For example new market players such as ICE-Gateway work with cities to optimize outdoor lightning and improve energy efficiency for the whole community. Another example is prosumergy which supplies electricity from solar panels with a focus on apartment buildings. For this business model, collaborating is essential as different actors (tenants, landlords, and energy providers) are involved. Finally, Dena recently introduced the Digital Energy World Platform with the aim to bring various stakeholders together, to develop cross-sectoral solutions and to recommend actions in the digital sector.

The Energiewende is on its way, yet it will not continue without strong collaborations of the type listed here. With only 25-30% of German energy provided by renewables today there is still a long way to go before the goals are met. Reaching these goals will require efforts by consumers, governments (at all scales), private companies and entrepreneurs. As Dürrenmatt wrote “What concerns all, has to be solved by all.”


Image originally published by S&S on April 1, 2016.

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