Energy Transition Study Trip to Germany for Georgian and Armenian Stakeholders

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Ms. Bärbel Höhn hosts participants of the Energy Transition trip at Bundestag

Energy systems worldwide have undergone a tremendous change recently and are entering a phase of greater transformation. European Union has already declared its readiness to move toward a low-carbon economy, G7 countries promised to undertake proper measures to decarbonize their power systems and more and more citizens worldwide are demanding clean and safer electricity.

Germany is one of the leaders in energy transition process. Energiewende became a long and strategic project even two decades ago, but invigorated after Fukushima, when the biggest European Industrial country decided to phase out its nuclear power plants until 2022. The share of renewable electricity in Germany rose from 6 percent to nearly 25 percent in less than ten years. On sunny and windy days, solar panels and wind turbines now increasingly supply up to half of the country’s electricity demand, which no one expected a few years ago.  An important challenge- to mothball coal power plants   is still ahead, but until now there is not public consensus how to switch from coal to Renewable Energy Sources in a socially acceptable way.  

On October 12-16, Heinrich Boell Foundation gave opportunity to 11 professionals (among them energy and environmental experts, activists, journalist and economists) from the Armenia and Georgia to study about Energiewende (or energy transition). Armenian and Georgian participants were able to meet and engage into active discussions with the representatives of German government, German parliament, business sector, NGOs and think thank organizations and understand how the energy-related decisions are made and at what extant each of those sectors affect on the final decisions.

How did German Energiewende start and develop? What are the key challenges and future plans? What experience can be helpful for Georgia and Armenia? These are a few things that the participants learned:

  1. New Energy World  

The president of Energywatchgroup, Mr. Hans Joseph Fell and Dr. Gerd Rosenkranz from Agora Energiewende were the first ones who gave insights from Germany`s Energiewende. The clear message is that “energiewende implies a new energy world characterized by flexibility, decentralized structures and a wide variety of actors”. Today wind and solar are mature technologies and cost competitive to all newly built power plants. The important factor to push renewable energy is a political will to create profitable and safe bases for investments in renewable energy. In Germany the political will came after a lot of demonstrations and protests, creation of financial platforms, cooperatives and lobby groups influencing high-level decision makers and parliamentarians. Of course, not all of those experiences can be mechanically transferred to the South Caucasus region, but successful legislative, financial and institutional mechanisms should be noted and taken into account in future.

  1. Changing Mindsets

On the question what is the key of the success of energiewende, Ms. Bärbel Höhn, Member of Alliance 90/the Greens and Chair of the Committee on the Environment answers, that it was important to convince wider society of this idea. As a result of a longtime work of the Greens and Fukushima nuclear disaster today 90% of Germans support Energiewende.

Currently lignite and coal remain to be the main emitters in Germany and if the country still has serious ambition to meet its climate goal by 2020, it should gradually decline dependence on coal power. While talking about the anti-coal politics of the Green party and her experience in fighting against coal producing companies, Ms. Höhn acknowledges that the most difficult part is to deal with the thousands of the people losing their jobs in coal industry. However it should be clear for them that subsidizing coal or investing into fossil-fuel industries won`t bring the sustainable future Germany wants. Big utility companies still have significant influence on politics and the Greens will have to undergo further fights to alter “fossil-thinking” of considerable portion of the society.

  1. Role of Cooperatives and Organization Lobbying Renewable Systems

Energy cooperatives have been an important building block in German Energiewende and played significant role in overcoming the barriers to adoption of renewable energy. Ordinary people, not coming from the conventional energy field, but having completely different backgrounds (farmers, privates, individuals involved in environmental and anti-nuclear movements) invested in small scale renewable energy systems. Additionally, the astonishing discovery during the meeting with the Federal Office of Energy Cooperatives was to hear about the role the solar and wind energy systems played in community and rural development.

Meeting in German Renewable Energy Federation (BEE) made it clear

  1. Main Expectation from Climate Summit Paris COP 21

Organizers dedicated special attention to climate change issues, in particular, international climate negotiations and expectations from Paris COP21 were well discussed with environmental NGO-Germanwatch and Dr. Camilla Bausch, Ecologic Institute Berlin. The overview of the specifics of the international Climate negotiation, actions and climate change campaigns of the civil society were inspirational for the Georgian and Armenian participants as long as there are limited organizations and professionals focusing on Climate Change issues in the SC. The discussions confirmed that the current political dynamics won`t bring international agreement with binding national targets in Paris. Although the intended nationally determined contributions (INDCs) should have led the process in the right direction, it`s clear that the pledges the countries put on the table are not yet sufficient for climate mitigation effort and won`t produce the solution to the climate issue.  

  1. The South Caucasus Energy Systems from the Perspective of German`s Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy

The last meeting with Mr. Jörg Kirsch from Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy should also be mentioned, since he is the key person at the Ministry responsible for the South Caucasus region. Mr. Kirsch didn`t hide his skepticism towards the alternative energy systems, especially in the countries with vulnerable economy. He emphasized energy efficiency potential of the SC countries, but doesn`t see the readiness of the current governments in the region to undertake substantial reforms towards that direction.  Nowadays when EU is trying to reduce its dependence on Russian Gas, the SC region (especially Azerbaijan and Georgia) is considered as an alternative corridor for gas supply diversification. Therefore SC countries should take more effort to enhance its cooperation in energy sector with EU countries. In this sense, it was frustrating to hear that Federal Ministry of Economic Affairs and Energy has not had any official meeting with its counterparts from Armenia and Georgia for the last couple of years.

Finally the participants had chance to examine Energywiende in reality. A trip to the energy self-sufficient village of Feldheim in Brandenburg showed the group one of Germany's examples of local energy autonomy. The rural village was chosen to demonstrate an example of Germany's energy revolution, boosting a wind farm, solar plant, biogas and biomass facilities. Also, the  participants could learn what sort of energy efficiency measures are in place for the building sector of Germany and examined an interesting example of housing cooperative, which established its own heating system saving 1/3 of the residents’ energy bills.

Each participant of the study-trip contributed to the final report and shared their personal impressions on different sections of the program. Download the report