The Future of Energy

A Lecture at Heinrich Böll Stiftung About the German Energiewende

The day began with a visit to Heinrich Böll Stiftung for a lecture about the Energiewende (German energy transition). Heinrich Böll is a political foundation that supports the Green Party in Germany. The four pillars of the Green Party are ecology, democracy, social justice, and pacifism, which includes an aversion to nuclear energy. Similar to other institutions we visited, the foundation’s funding comes from the German government, and the amount that a political foundation receives depends heavily upon how well the party does in the current election. Our presenter explained that contrary to American politics, foundations with political affiliations in Germany avoid publishing propaganda. There is a focus on political education, including networking, operating as a think tank, and releasing publications.

The logo at Heinrich Böll Stiftung, our first presentation of the day.

Students were very interested in our presenter’s experience with the Energiewende. One of the key differences with the United States is that energy is significantly more expensive in Germany. In North Carolina, energy costs about 12 cents per kilowatt-hour. In Germany, it’s about 28 cents per kilowatt-hour. However, if you produce your energy with solar panels, it’s only about half the price. Incentives such as this have greatly increased the share of renewable energy in Germany. More than 50% of the energy produced is from citizens, through initiatives such as cooperatives.

Students listen to the presentation, taking notes and thinking of thought-provoking questions.

The Heinrich Böll representative also gave us her opinion on the future of the energy transition. Now that the feed-in tariff is phasing out, putting the “true price” on energy is becoming more important than ever. In her eyes, politicians cannot use phrases such as “carbon tax,” but rather should say, “making renewable energy more affordable” or “decreasing fossil fuel subsidies.”

In her words, “Individual freedom ends where the freedom of future generations is threatened.” Citizens want change, but in a convenient way. We discussed the phrase, “Wash my hair, but don’t make me wet.” However, most German citizens are supportive of the Energiewende. They see the need for cleaner air in cities and the potential to move away from nuclear energy by increasing the share of renewables. As the speaker explained, Germans were surrounded by nuclear power on both sides during the Cold War, and are not fond of the energy source.

Our presenter, a Heinrich Böll employee who focuses on policy education.

Coal is also being phased out as part of the Energiewende. The energy transition encompasses energy, heating, and mobility. Therefore, electric cars and public transit are becoming more and more popular in Germany, and the Heinrich Böll employee expressed her own dislike for SUVs and other fossil-fuel vehicles.

Unfortunately, the transition away from the feed-in tariff means more and more small citizen initiatives will have trouble producing renewable energy. The political framework is shifting towards an auction system, where companies compete to offer the lowest bid on projects. This will favor larger corporations, in Heinrich Böll’s opinion. In the past few years, the feed-in tariff allowed cooperatives and small citizen initiatives to enter the market, guaranteeing fixed contracts for up to twenty years. Now that the policy is ending, it will be interesting how the Energiewende changes. All the students thoroughly enjoyed the presentation, and thanked the employee for her time. Then, we grabbed a coffee for the road and headed to our next appointment.

-Erin Danford

TXL: The Urban Tech Republic

TXL airport becomes showcase for future Smart Cities

After visiting the Heinrich Böll Foundation, we visited Berlin TXL: The Urban Tech Republic.

The Urban Tech Republic uses lots of bright colors and fun graphics to communicate that the finalized product is a fun, creative use of space that will benefit the community.

Our host first provided context for understanding Berlin. She described the two major phases of development in Berlin, after 1945 and after 1989. After these periods, the industrial employment base collapsed by two-thirds between 1989 and 2001. To combat this change, the city invested in the knowledge industry.

Students arrive at the Tegel Project office space. The organization shares the building with several other businesses.

Today, there are four major institutions in the city and a high concentration of talent, both of which curate an innovative ecosystem. Berlin now functions as a cultural center, known for its diversity, creativity, tolerance, cluster of start-ups, and more. As the presenter described, these qualities are summed up by the “three Ts:” technology, talent, and tolerance. There is also a digital ecosystem, which is concentrated in the capital. There are lots of co-working spaces and incubators in the area.

Students take notes and ask questions during the presentation. The Urban Tech Republic provides a perfect example of how to reshape old infrastructure for the needs of the future.

Berlin is doing well, seeing GDP growth and general economic health. As the population grows, the need for space for living and working within the city does too. Between 2003 and 2014, the number of inhabitants increased by 7 percent, and the working population increased by 17 percent. This influx of residents and workers will only enhance the positive feedback loop of innovation.

Students check out the plans and projections for the finalized project.

Then we began discussion about Berlin’s three airports: Tempelhof, Tegel, and Schönefeld. Tempelhof was closed in 2008 and was converted to a green recreational space. Tegel, which sits on approximately 500 hectares of land, will be closed in 2019 and opened up. The campus will have a green landscape, an industrial park, a commercial area, and a main campus. The space is meant to be a showcase of what a Smart City can and should be.

In the development of this project, the team faces several challenges: resource scarcity, climate change, demographic change, urbanization, and digitization. Even so, it is the Urban Tech Republic’s goal to “do well by doing good.” The organization engages in lots of activities to better the city: developing/testing mobility concepts, inventing materials, field-testing new energy sources, upgrading recycling, improving water tech, and creating ICT solutions.

Students take advantage of the opportunity to speak with a member of the Urban Republic staff.

Nearby residents are supportive of the project because they will not have to endure the noise pollution that airplanes create. However, some citizens think Berlin still needs two airports to manage the tremendous amount of traffic, but the Urban Tech Republic argues that the Tegel airport is already so old that it would be too intense to renovate to the international standards anyways.

-Olivia Corriere