Nature and nurture are strong factors concerning energy transition

March 21, 2013 | 00:00

Nature and nurture are strong factors concerning energy transition

Today’s menu offers you another analysis of the debate in Germany concerning the trajectory of energy transition as main course. In reality the transition will be a long-lasting dinner.

In this week's article Rainer Baake, director Agora Energiewende argues that Germany's possibilities for renewable energy are limited. He puts it strongly: "Agora says with assurance that in Germany the shift to renewable energies will succeed based on wind and solar, or it will not happen at all." Read his 'The true challenges facing the German Energiewende'.

Recently Claudia Kemfert showed her concern about the strengthening of the voice of the fossil lobby in her interview with our correspondent Paul Hockenos, titled The lost honour of Germany's Energiewende: An Analyst returns Fire in the War of Words. Apart from different approaches to the subject as such the two articles make clear that Germany still faces a difficult discussion before a final outcome and a concrete program and planning arise.

The discussions in the European countries about the development of and the strategy for the usage of natural gas, that is more expensive than coal, at least for the time being, disturb the actual markets. New waves of shale gas, tight oil and as it seems unexpected larger coal reserves ( last week figures popped up in the media indicating volumes of about 3000 billion tons, enough for 1000 years) weaken the sense of urgency as regards the need of a fast energy transition. That is how it works at least psychologically.

At the same time one can see that the trajectory to a sustainable energy world differs strongly among countries. Some 20 years ago the European Commission started to break up monopolies by decreeing the split up of trade and transport. It took quite a while, but one after another the member states and their national energy companies complied to the rules. "We want a level playing field, please," was the slogan in those days of the companies that want a more simultaneous ascent.

A simultaneous ascent as far as the transition to a sustainable future shows no level playing field. On the contrary, it is impossible for each country is bound to its nature and its nurture. We use these terms when talking about humans, but there is a certain analogy looking at countries. Nature in this case is represented by geographical position, energy properties and weather conditions of a country. Nurture is a nation's culture as a mixture of politics, technology and level of modern industrialisation.

Together these factors are resulting in a unique behaviour concerning the energy transition approach.

I give you a couple of examples. Coal is part of Germany's energy genealogy. It may not surprise us, that we still recognise a strong urge to make use of this treasure. At the same time Germans have a fling with technology. The Netherlands closed its coal mines after the discovery of the Groningen gas field in the sixties and was nurtured with an abundance of natural gas taken into account its national needs. The Dutch have trade in their bones. Steel construction and heavy industry deteriorated, so we see Germany producing the windmills and not the Dutch.

In southern European countries plenty of sunshine is part of past and future. Not surprisingly Spain is focussing on solar energy expansion.

In the industrial history of the United Kingdom coal also played the first violin, but after a short period of having oil and natural gas reserves enough for internal use the country now is in doubt where to put its money, no particular energy characteristic leading in the present. And as a last example Norway. That country has more oil and natural gas than it needs for its own industry and house warming. The mountainous character does not favour transport by pipelines, but it does not work out as a disadvantage, hydropower is in this case the country's property and part of its nature.

It is obvious what's in a country's energy-DNA as a historical property and the present qualities and strengths of its technological capabilities are of great influence regarding the strategic choices and on-going debates where a sustainable future is on the table.


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