INTERVIEW with JULIA VERLINDEN from ALLIANCE 90/THE GREENS
by Sophia Reißenweber
What is the crucial problem why Germany cannot meet the targets of the Paris Climate Agreement 2020 and what consequences will this failure have?
The reason for the failure is the lack of progress with the reduction of fossil energies and the abandonment of coal. Nothing has happened in the transport sector for years and neither the change to more efficient renewable energies in the heating sector has not been successful. Hence, there are several factors why CO2 emissions are not decreasing at the required speed.
The German government itself has set the target for 2020 which is part of its own energy concept. The Paris Agreement, on the other hand, is designed for the medium to long term and currently contains no sanctions for the individual states. The failure is particularly embarrassing for the Federal Government itself. On the European level, however, it is becoming more relevant because Germany has to meet targets for the individual sectors, e.g. for the transport and heating sectors for the year 2020. If these targets are not met, funds for compensation will have to be transferred to the countries that have surpassed their targets. Initial forecasts are assuming fines of several billion Euros, which will probably be imposed on us in the next 10 years.
What are the specific solutions, projects, laws or programs the Greens offer in case they get back into government?
There is a very detailed solar application in the parliamentary procedure that our faction in the German Federal Parliament decided in April. For example, it contains demands to simplify the electricity supply for tenants and to install more solar energy on roofs. All newly erected buildings are also to be equipped automatically with a solar energy system, a lot has to happen within the transport and heating sector and the phase-out of the coal industry has to be pushed. It is also important that infrastructural decisions are always made with climate targets in mind.
Your party wants a participatory energy revolution, one that people can join.
What is meant by this and what can “joining in” look like?
So far, many people in Germany have participated in the energy revolution by investing in renewable energy. Approximately half of the installed systems are co-financed by private persons, for example farmers who install photovoltaics on their fields or citizen energy cooperatives who install solar energy systems on school roofs. The citizen energy turn is a wonderful matter, since the people take part in the financial investments and participate above all locally in the energy transition and drive these forward. Unfortunately, this success was systematically limited within the last three government periods and many bureaucratic obstacles were put in the way, whereby it becomes ever more difficult for one to take part in the energy system transformation. Many energy cooperatives driven by citizens have a decreasing desire to change something. I find that extremely regrettable.
According to Fraunhofer ISE, approx. 120-290 GW (Gigawatt) of installed PV capacity is required to cover our entire energy requirements predominantly from renewable energy sources, in addition to a number of other measures [ISE5, IWES2]*. If we take the PV expansion to 200 GW by 2050, an average of 5 GW of new PV must be added each year.
How can this high demand for renewable energy be met realistically and ecologically within 30 years?
We want this even faster and we think it is realistic!
How is that going to happen?
There have been years in which 7-8 GW have been installed. We demand and expect that there should be 10 GW installed per year and don’t want 100% renewable electricity only by 2050, but as the Greens we want to reach this target by 2030. Of course, this will take a little longer in the transport and heating sector, but we want to achieve this by 2030, especially for the electricity sector. This also includes using energy more efficiently.
It is clear that solar energy is a very important building block in achieving climate targets. We also believe that it is a great opportunity for local value creation, especially for local craft businesses.
And is this still realistic if we assume that mobility will also switch to 100% renewable electrical energy (and hydrogen – also produced by electricity)?
Yes, if we take the Paris climate agreement seriously, we will both definitely not be allowed to burn fossil fuels in a period of time that we will live to see. That is why the switch to 100% renewable mobility is guaranteed. The two most important options are electric power or hydrogen that is produced from green electricity. Several research institutions have already calculated that this is feasible, but the framework conditions must also be right.
The storage capacity required for the energy system transformation is to be achieved through a “market introduction program”.
Are you already thinking about the recovery and possible recycling methods for this large amount of batteries? Or are you thinking about battery alternatives? If so, which ones?
Storage facilities are not only batteries but also, for example, large pumped storage power plants that could be used, for example, in the event of overproduction of wind power. If electricity becomes very cheap on the electricity exchange because of high winds, the opportunity can be seized to fill a huge reservoir with water. The water is pumped up and as soon as more electricity is needed that cannot be provided by renewable energies, the water runs down again and produces electricity through a turbine. Such pumped storage facilities already exist in Germany, they are not yet financially viable due to the basic conditions we have in the electricity market system. Us Greens urgently want to change that. Another storage technology is heat storage, with which cities can temporarily store excess heat.
Batteries are a particular topic in the field of electromobility. It is the task of manufacturers to develop good systems so that batteries can be recycled or returned so that they can be disposed properly. Here it is indeed important that the responsibilities stay with the manufacturers, because this increases their interest to produce in a good manner and to organize an appropriate take-back system themselves. To this end, we must hold, car manufacturers for example, or other companies, responsible.
Where do you see possible potentials for integrating the required amount of PV in our everyday life?
Well, I think roofs are very good to begin with, because we need them for little else. I also think that it is right that the debate should be intensified and that solar installations on agricultural land should be built higher, so that e.g. sheep can pass through and the space can be used in multiple ways. I also see other small applications of how solar energy can be used. For example, I have a mobile phone charger with a small solar cell. I also have a balcony photovoltaic system with only 150W. Of course, it will never produce the amount of electricity I need in my small apartment though low in power consumption. It is a small contribution that can be produced on the balcony. I believe that it is good for many people to come into contact with solar energy and especially, to try it out at schools and educational institutions.
However, the biggest role will be played by solar systems on the roof and on open spaces, which generate electricity with a good degree of efficiency. In order to achieve the climate targets, above all we need large-scale solar installations and the right incentives. At the moment, roofs are not being filled to the brim with photovoltaics. People decide to install only 8-9 kilowatts peak, because from 10 kilowatts peak the so-called sun tax has to be paid. Of course, this is fatal, because we need every centimeter for producing clean energy.
Great, thank you very much for your evaluation. Now one last question: Do you see any potential in working with designers for implementing the “participatory energy revolution”?
I’m sure there’s a lot of potential. I believe that it can stimulate reflection and discussion in the social debate if designers come up with new ideas in which solar energy also plays a part. For example, by integrating solar into the cityscape or being found in unexpected places, by equipping facades with solar energy or by looking at how solar cells can be used in a different way in the future.
Perhaps they will even be used in some kind of art? I don’t know exactly, but I do believe that it makes sense for as many people as possible to deal with the topic and show what they can contribute from their respective perspectives. It’s important to move the debate forward and also to show what a wonderful technology it is. In this respect, I believe that it offers great opportunities and has a lot of potential.
Photo: Sandra König
Member of the German Bundestag
Alliance 90/ The Greens Group (Die Grünen)
Member of the German Bundestag since October 2013
2013 Head of the Energy Efficiency Department at the
Federal Environment Agency