“Municipalities need a climate protection caretaker”

“Municipalities need a climate protection caretaker”


The political framework for sector coupling may be determined by the federal government – but implementation takes place mainly in municipalities. How far have the districts, towns and municipalities progressed? What do they need to be aware of in terms of connecting electricity, heat and mobility? Together with Chrissy Lind and Rupert Wronski, Ryotaro Kajimura from the German Renewable Energy Agency (Agentur für Erneuerbare Energien) discusses these and many other questions with JAMES.

Where do the municipalities currently stand in terms of climate protection and sector coupling?

Wronski: Unfortunately, we cannot make a general statement and say that all municipalities are fully on course. Although many districts are working hard at expanding electricity and heat generation using renewable energies, a number of major cities are a long way behind on the transformation of their heating supply in particular. And on transport, there is too little progress practically everywhere.

Kajimura: Many municipalities are already well on the road, and some have really come a long way. On the other hand, however, we also see numerous districts, towns and municipalities that are still just starting out. In these cases, there is a lack of capacity for strategically addressing climate protection and sector coupling, both at the outset and later on – and unfortunately also a lack of support from the population.

How does this manifest itself in concrete terms?

Kajimura: Some municipalities do not have enough workers or financial resources to initiate or implement sector coupling projects. This is often because they are economically weak, because their resources are tied up in other tasks or because the political will simply isn’t strong enough. There is often nobody in the administration to drive the issue forward. But if municipalities create a dedicated role for this, they are entitled to receive funding from the federal government as part of the National Climate Protection Initiative (Nationale Klimaschutzinitiative NKI).

What are the starting points for overcoming such obstacles?

Wronski: Cooperating with other municipalities is a very important aspect of this. Currently, it is all too often the case that local stakeholders consider climate protection responsibilities to end at the administrative borders, which means that connection points are out of scope. There are so many potential synergies that go untapped, especially in terms of urban-rural relationships. After all, towns and their environs can perfectly complement each other in terms of energy generation and consumption. Both sides can benefit greatly from this. But in order for this to work there has to be the corresponding political will at the local level – and also the appropriate administrative capacities.

What are the typical questions that municipalities bring to the Forum Synergiewende initiative?

Lind: At the moment there is a strong focus on driving municipal heating system planning. Among other things, they are looking for practical examples that show how the planning has already been done elsewhere. Around 460 people, mainly from the municipal sector, recently took part in a web seminar on this topic, which clearly shows how great the need for information is. The mobility transition is another burning issue for municipalities. They see it as being not only about switching to electromobility, but also about new transport concepts, including supporting pedestrians and cyclists. In addition there are many questions relating to energy sharing, i.e. participation in renewable energy projects and subsidised use of locally generated electricity. Many of them want to take action in this respect; indeed, residents often take the initiative, for instance in the form of cooperatives.

Wronski: The main reason there is so much interest in energy sharing is that residents and municipalities have realised that it offers a means of increasing local acceptance for the expansion of renewable energies and value creation within the region. Residents also benefit because these measures help to drive down electricity prices. However, the federal government still needs to adapt the legal framework for energy sharing. This process is currently ongoing.

Kajimura: For municipalities, the obligation to plan heating systems represents a huge leap forward because the topic of heating also has a social dimension. It is about residents’ money, their property; it is about questions like: who can afford what investment? This is a hugely volatile issue, as we also saw in the debate surrounding the Buildings Energy Act (Gebäudeenergiegesetz). Municipalities therefore often approach this topic with real seriousness. Their appetite for information, for example about the possible courses of action open to them, is correspondingly great.

How should municipalities proceed if they want to establish energy transformation projects?

Lind: It is advisable to first take stock of the current status: What are the municipality’s energy needs? What is the situation in the various districts? What potential for renewables exists? Then you need to define specific goals. And, very importantly, there needs to be someone on the administration who will drive the processes, to act as a champion. Furthermore, there is also a need to consider networking with local stakeholders from the outset, and also to ensure that residents are involved. Ideally, they should not just support the project, but also be directly involved in it.

Kajimura: Yes, you definitely need a champion who can drive the project with the necessary resources, with persuasive power and passion, and ensure that the relevant people get on board. And in terms of measures, you should not aim to start a huge revolution – that is, you should not try to change everything at once. Rather, it is best to first connect smaller and larger measures – so pairing those that are less intensive, but which pay off quickly in economic and environmental protection terms with measures that require a lot of investment and only pay dividends over a period of years. This will ensure that you can quickly enjoy small successes without losing sight of the big picture.

One of the goals of sector coupling is to avoid the downrating of renewable energy plants. What can municipalities do this in this respect?

Lind: For example, municipalities can ensure that more surplus electricity is used for supplying heat. If current demand for heat is low, it should be easily stored. This adds flexibility to the electricity system – and also ties in perfectly with demand for renewable energies in the heating sector. However, the economic viability of such electricity/heat applications is threatened by the fact that electricity consumers are considered end consumers, meaning that in most cases they bear the entire tax burden included in the price of electricity – which means all taxes and levies as well as the network charges. The federal government urgently needs to reform this! After all, municipalities and public utility companies could do a wonderful job of implementing these concepts. They are intimately acquainted with the local heating needs profile and they know how the electricity supply in the region develops over time. The people are waiting in the starting blocks for this, but they cannot implement their projects because of this heavy tax burden.

What do the federal government and the federal states still need to do with regard to sector coupling in municipalities?

Wronski: For example, it would make sense if the federal government and the federal states were to implement meaningful, mandatory monitoring of the general funding they offer municipalities for climate protection measures. Concerning funds for implementing the planning of heating systems, for example, funds should only be allocated to those who can demonstrate that they are also actually reducing their carbon footprint. In addition, we very often hear at our events that much too little is happening with regard to expanding the grid. Again and again, we hear that the grids are simply too full to connect any further plants. The issue needs to be resolved at the federal government level, for example through the incentive-based regulation of distribution network operators, to ensure that a patchwork of small-scale systems does not spring up.

Forum Synergiewende

The Forum Synergiewende project is managed by the German Renewable Energy Agency (Agentur für Erneuerbare Energien, AEE) and Environmental Action Germany (Deutsche Umwelthilfe, DUH) and supported by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Action. It supports municipalities in getting sector coupling projects off the ground with events, information materials and public relations work and also through stakeholder networking. The offering is aimed not only at municipal representatives, but also companies and citizen-led energy cooperatives active in this area.

Ryotaro Kajimura

Project Manager, Forum Synergiewende (German Renewable Energy Agency/AEE), specialist area: communication

Rupert Wronski

Deputy Head of Municipal Environmental Protection (Environmental Action Germany/DUH), specialist area: photovoltaics

Chrissy Lind

Project Manager, Forum Synergiewende (Environmental Action Germany/ DUH), specialist area: heat pumps