Earth Day exclusive: Environmental leadership essential to success

The theme of the fourth annual World Energy Dialogue was energy supply security.

By Michael Ivanovich, Editor-in-Chief, Consulting-Specifying Engineer April 22, 2009

The fourth annual World Energy Dialogue convened at Hannover Messe , in Hannover, Germany, on April 21. The theme of this year’s event was energy supply security.

The backdrop of the global environmental crisis and the increase in United States momentum to combat climate change provided additional context to the discussions.

Representatives from Germany, Korea, and the United States shared their views on energy supply, domestic and foreign policies for economic and environmental regulation, and energy technologies.

The dialogue was chaired by environmental expert, Dr. Klaus Topfer, Germany’s former Minister for the Environment. Speakers included Dr. Christof Schoser, member of the European Commission; Youn Ho Lee, Minister of Knowledge Economy of Korea; Keith Cooley, president and CEO, Next Energy; Dr. Hans-Peter Keitel of the Federal Association of German Industry (BDI); and Jochen Homann, of the State Secretary at the German Federal Ministry of Economics and Technology.

Topfer led with an impassioned call for targeted investment in efficient, leading-edge technologies and products. Doing so would help Germany manufacture and export products to keep pace with the world’s growing demand for energy, thus addressing the economic crisis with long term education, employment, and energy solutions.

"One can’t simply preserve jobs for the sake of preserving jobs. Creating employment opportunities into the future requires global environmental leadership. Climate-friendly production is the solution to the current crisis, not its cause," Topfer said.

Given all of the talk about energy efficiency and renewable energy at Hannover Messe, the Dialogue got off to a surprising start. After Topfer’s opening remarks, the first speaker, Keitel, gave a frank assessment of Germany’s situation: "I am encouraged that industry is not tiring of finding its own answers to this crisis, which rarely are the same solutions as the government’s. Entrepreneurs are not waiting for the government to do something."

While Germany has heavily invested in renewable energy and energy efficiency (7% of Germany’s power comes from wind), 90% of Germany’s base load power requirement is covered by nuclear and coal, according to Keitel.

The public is accustomed to the luxury of the grid, and they protest against everything used by Germany to produce electricity. The Russian gas crisis showed us we are dependent on individual media. Each energy source has advantages and disadvantages for climate change, base load, peak load, CO 2 production, etc. We would be reckless if we dismiss any energy types as part of an energy mix. We cannot afford to take an ideological view point and stick to it. For example, nuclear . We need nuclear power for meeting base load power requirements. Solar, biomass, and wind cannot replace the base load power provided by nuclear. In dismissing nuclear, we are cutting into our own flesh to be ideological.

Keitel said three things are needed: First, a balanced energy mix that includes nuclear. Second, better construction of electrical grids as a framework for investors (to give them confidence). Third, a European strategy is needed . The strategy would include stable investment frameworks that would attract substantial and long-term multi-national investments.

Jochen Homann, representing the State Secretary at the German Federal Ministry of Economics and Technology spoke on energy supply in the age of globalization, dwindling resources, and climate change.

His view was than in the current economic crisis, we must use energy efficiency as an engine for growth and development. "We need to move into the renewable world because supplies are dwindling, and we need to have a wide energy mix," he said.

Learning from the Russian/Ukrainian travesty, Homann pointed out that Germany needs to increase the countries capabilities for importing liquefied national gas (LNG). "We don’t have the logistics. However, we can learn from Korea because Korea is second largest importer of LNG," he said. (Korea is Hannover Messe’s partner country this year.)

On renewable energy, Homann said should move faster because "the fast mover is the one that reaps the most benefit. It’s not just climate protection; we need to replace the finite resources that we have to guarantee safe supplies." Homann sees Germany’s investment in electricity generated from renewables increasing from 20 billion euros to 100 billion euros, not including what utilities also are spending. These investments would increase the renewable energy share of Germany’s portfolio for electricity from 15% to 30%. For heating, Homann said Germany is investing 500 million euros to develop renewable energy supplies to raise their fraction from 7.5% to 14% by 2020.

Supporting Keitel’s assessment of a pan-European energy infrastructure, Homann said, "Europe must be able to speak in one voice, like we did for gas prices. We can get things moving if speak in one voice."