Steering out of crisis mode

A commentary by Dr Fabian Faller

Steering out of crisis mode


Our supertanker, the “Energy Supply”, is in danger of being capsized in the storm of events. For too long, the holes in the sides have only had temporary patches on them. The captain and his crew are now steering blind, in constant fear of being smashed on the cliffs of energy shortage. While all that is going on, the chance to finally get the tanker properly afloat and set a course for safer waters is passing them by. Fabian Faller has a few suggestions.

“Energy crisis: inflation, recession, loss of prosperity” is the headline of the Ifo Institute for Economic Research. “Th e supply situation and skyrocketing energy prices are posing existential challenges for many companies,” writes the Chamber of Industry and Commerce. “In any case, the future viability of our economy is at risk,” says the Federal Minister for Economic Affairs and Climate Action. Crisis. Crisis. Crisis. Prices are rising. Now the energy supply is being shored up with billions of euros, LNG is being shipped in, coal-fired power plants are being ramped up. But why? On the one hand, we could all nod sagely. These are people who are trying to get around the shortfall in supply and keep many people at risk of shipwreck afloat. On the other hand, we have to shake our heads, because the crisis is obviously blinding us to what we have actually been able to do for a long time: generate safe, aff ordable energy for everyone with a consistent, rapid expansion of renewable energies, with storage systems and flexible consumption. Only recently, the Energy Brainpool energy research institute determined: if we had built about a quarter more wind turbines and solar panels, electricity prices would be more than 20% lower. What an opportunity!

It’s a sobering thought to see how the fossilised “old energy system” with its large, ponderous structures is being rescued at high pressure with immense personnel and financial input from the federal and state governments instead of modernising the ship and making it unsinkable. One tragic example is the import of energy resources such as hydrogen. This is supposedly necessary because we have insufficient renewable energies in Germany and Europe, and we cannot have them because we do not have the networks, which are essential for supplying the electrolysers with electricity. Now the Chancell or and the Minister for Economic Affairs and Climate Action are buying hydrogen from Canada, for example. Spending precious funds that could also be put to excell ent use in this country for its own independent infrastructure. The Canadian hydrogen is produced with a direct power line from the wind farm to the electrolyser, i.e. without any grids at all. Well, actually, there is a problem: they don’t even have wind turbines there yet. In contrast to over here. The only ones who profit from this deal are the European and German energy traders who made in big in the fossil world.

Domestic producers look down their pipes and wonder: so is the hydrogen network primarily intended for import, but not for domestic production? Targets will be enshrined in law here for the sustainable, decentralised and flexible energy transition, and individual regulations adapted, which may then take effect from the mid-2020s. Federal targets here, billions there. And what are the federal states doing?

Each one exactly as they please. Everybody is looking at how this expansion could work. We are indulging in micromanagement, asking ourselves whether a photovoltaic plant on the water should be 50 or 70 metres away from the embankment or whether the wind turbine rotors should protrude a few metres beyond the primary area. So, rigorous intervention on the one hand, a paucity of details on the other, making plans for a distant future. The present and the future could hardly be further apart. Admittedly, hardly anyone would really want to stand in the political leaders’ shoes, because navigating blind battling a storm is probably a really difficult thing to do. Nevertheless, it is a crying shame that we are missing the opportunity to promote longterm and future-proof solutions because of the crisis. Three simple suggestions:

Speed: We take the pressure off everyone getting caught up in years-long approval procedures. This applies first and foremost to the authorities, who all too often are rushing from deadline to deadline, waiting for statements only to end up having to repeatedly obtain expert opinions because their material loses its validity. So, first of all, just make the deadlines completely explicit by stipulating that anyone who does not respond within the deadline is assumed to have agreed. And what’s delivered counts. No reworking, deadline extensions or the like. This goes for everyone, i.e. equally for the project developers, who then run the risk of not being able to implement their projects, and for the public agencies or associations, who simply have to deal with the issues as they arise. And then there’s the master stroke: we will gather speed if we take bigger steps. That’s why we have to get away from the minutiae of permits. This can be achieved by granting privileges under building law for plans relating to climate protection and the energy transition and by systematically simplifying approval procedures under pollution control law.

Fairness: We create a level playing field for everyone in Germany. Whether it’s wind energy, solar parks, electrolysers or heating networks, everything is put through its paces before construction and commissioning. Uniform interpretation guides, clear rules and regulations and the same framework conditions for good administration across the country. This also calls for a reduction in bureaucracy through precisely drafted laws and agile, digital administrative processes. Printing out and scanning in again or placing orders by fax no longer have a place in common practice. Across the country, we will enter the modern age together.

100% renewables for all: A decentralised energy system is needed to ensure that all consumers and sectors have secure and affordable energy in the long term. This means regional security, extending the workbench and thus higher added value locally. The costs of renewable energy are low in the long term. Storage options and flexible consumers make it possible to live continuously with renewables. The one thing we do not need are new dependencies. Instead, we need technological partnerships between states. Everyone contributes their innovative strength and potential in exchange for partnership, trust and togetherness. This is how we achieve 100% renewables for all: by replacing the status quo with smart solutions, not energy sources.

If we address these issues consistently, we can provide safe, affordable energy on a large scale. We can create capacities for long-term economic prosperity. We can get out of this crisis mode, with positive momentum.

Now is the time to set sail on a course to sustainable energy supply! Let us use our fi nancial strength to cushion the blow and at the same time support viable and sustainable solutions. Let us bring our technical sophistication to bear on system- efficient designs that keep the entire energy flow in mind! Perhaps the headlines will soon read: “Energy crisis – was there ever one?” “Low energy prices attracting many companies.” Or “In any case, the future viability of our economy is secure.”

Dr Fabian Faller

is head of the Energy Industry/Public Affairs department at GP JOULE. Prior to that, he was responsible as managing director of the Schleswig-Holstein Renewable Energy Association for its structural development as well as the political representation of the entire renewable energy sector in the north. He holds a doctorate in economic geography and is an expert on the social and regional economic impacts and change processes of the renewable energy sector.