If we are to achieve the objectives of the Paris Agreement and the European Green Deal, we must create a net-zero emissions energy system. A new set of energy modelling tools is needed to explore potential energy futures and opportunities to transform existing energy systems. Researchers from the Sustainable Energy Transition Laboratory (SENTINEL) project have launched an online survey to learn more about the requirements for energy models to support decision-making for the European energy transition. In a second survey, they are examining the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the stakeholder engagement activities of energy research projects.
The coronavirus pandemic has triggered an economic recession with potentially stronger effects than the 2008 financial crisis. The recession has been accompanied by a global decline in energy demand. A new study by the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies (IASS) examines the impacts of the pandemic on the global energy sector, and considers whether recent political decisions are accelerating the transformation of energy systems or perpetuating reliance on fossil fuels. The study includes an analysis of the energy policies of Argentina, China, Germany, India, Israel and the USA.
Heating accounts for over 50 per cent of final energy consumption. So reducing the emissions that result from heating buildings would make a huge difference to the climate. What strategies are being pursued to realise this potential in Germany and the UK? A study by researchers from the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies (IASS) finds that both countries could do a lot more to mitigate climate change in the heating sector.
Innovations in the area of carbon utilisation are the subject of growing interest. Novel technologies that capture CO2 emissions for industrial use can contribute to building a circular carbon economy and reduce consumption of fossil‐based raw materials. A recent study analyses the economic challenges and opportunities these technologies present to different industries.
Economies around the world have been severely affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. Substantial political efforts will be needed to stabilize employment markets and relieve pressure on health systems. Renewable energy generation can provide important stimuli for efforts to achieve these goals. A team of researchers with the COBENEFITS project at the IASS has analysed the potential benefits of decarbonizing the energy sector.
Energy policy debates tend to revolve around the technical feasibility of shifting from fossil to renewable energies. But energy policy measures will only be successfully anchored in society, and lifestyle changes sustained, if they are supported by broad swathes of the population. Edited by IASS Director Ortwin Renn and researchers from the Kopernikus project E-Navi, “The Role of Public Participation in Energy Transitions” offers theoretical insights as well as practical examples of how participation processes can succeed.
The use of bioenergy is increasing, despite the fact that the cultivation of biomass competes with food production and the conservation of natural ecosystems. A recent study suggests that the concept of ‘reflexive governance’ can support the development of more integrated biofuels policies by encouraging a shift from individual interests to an integrative approach.
High investment costs are a major impediment to the energetic refurbishment of residential buildings in Germany. Smart thermostats are a relatively inexpensive alternative. An IASS study shows that they are cost-effective for homes with a medium to low efficiency standard even when the realised energy savings are modest.
The coal phaseout in Lusatia has already been dragging on for three decades. In the face of delays to the promised structural transformation of the region, the out-migration of its young people, and local conflicts of interest, politicians now need to take action on two fronts. Financial investment alone will not be enough; the local population has to be involved in determining the direction its region is going to take. In a new publication IASS researchers analyse the obstacles to change and point to opportunities for democratically legitimised transformations.
How can the energy transition be organized in a globally just way? Will developing countries struggle to transition to clean energy because they lack the financial and technical means? A new Policy Brief by the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies (IASS) focuses on the risks of an uneven transition and makes concrete proposals to prevent such risks.
In the face of a changing climate and widespread environmental destruction it is difficult to envision a future in which healthy people inhabit a healthy planet. Strategies to safeguard planetary health were the subject of an IASS symposium on the occasion of the inaugural "Klaus Töpfer Sustainability Fellowship" on 6 November in Berlin.
In late September, the Kopernikus project ENavi presented their interactive simulation tools at the 28th meeting of the Committee on Sustainable Energy of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) in Geneva. The tools can be used to demonstrate the impacts of measures to develop more sustainable transportation systems and expand renewable energy generation capacities.
Ministerial representatives and experts from around the world met in Berlin over two days at the Climate Opportunity 2019 Conference to learn from each other about the co-benefits of transitions towards more sustainable energy systems. The conference also provided a space for the development of strategies to leverage the co-benefits of individual climate protection measures in the course of political decision-making processes.
Europe has enough solar and wind resources to meet its electricity demand entirely from renewable sources. A new study by researchers at the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies (IASS) in Potsdam shows that many regions and municipalities could meet their electricity demand using electricity systems based exclusively on renewables. However, their development would exacerbate land use pressure around metropolitan areas and larger conurbations.
Even though electricity generated from solar and wind energy is becoming increasingly cost-competitive, the expansion of renewable energies continues to depend on policy support. When such support is lacking, setbacks to the energy transition can often result – as seen in the cases of the former pioneer countries Spain and the Czech Republic. What energy policy lessons can we learn from this? A study published in the journal Energy Policy makes recommendations for effective policy design.
Natural gas releases fewer harmful air pollutants and greenhouse gases than other fossil fuels. That’s why it is often seen as a bridge technology to a low-carbon future. A new study by the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies (IASS) has estimated emissions from shale gas production through fracking in Germany and the UK. It shows that CO2-eq. emissions would exceed the estimated current emissions from conventional gas production in Germany.
Science has already given us a much better understanding of what we must do in order to leave our world intact for future generations. However, that understanding has had little impact on our collective behaviour. At the first Global Sustainability Strategy Forum in March 2019, 17 prominent scientists looked at how science can help bring about the changes we need to see. They have now published their findings in an IASS Discussion Paper.
About 80 per cent of current CO2 emissions are caused by the member states of the G20. So it’s clear that they have a particular responsibility to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and encourage a shift to renewable energy. The leaders of these countries now need to act on that responsibility at the G20 Summit in Osaka on 28 and 29 June.
Eighteen people were recently awarded the Order of Merit of the federal state of Baden-Württemberg by Governor Winfried Kretschmann. Professor Ortwin Renn, Scientific Director at the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies (IASS) was among them. Renn was honoured for his outstanding contribution to the transfer of scientific insights into politics, public administration and management and his unstinting commitment to a just and sustainable economic and social order.
Germany has committed to reducing its carbon emissions to 45 per cent of 1990 levels by 2030. There is a broad consensus that the decommissioning of the country’s coal-fired power plants is essential to achieving this goal. The shift to a more decentralised system of energy generation will, however, result in additional costs for society as a whole.
Digitisation can support the transition to a low-carbon energy system by facilitating the production, transportation and consumption of renewable energies. Digital technologies give consumers a role in determining when, where, and for what purpose energy is provided, how much energy can be saved, and what share of the energy mix renewables make up. From 13 to 17 May, early-career professionals from 16 different countries will meet with experts in Potsdam to discuss the challenges the transition to a sustainable energy system presents to politics, science, the private sector and civil society, and the role digitisation can play in the process.
The transition to a net-zero-emission economy will create new rivalries, winners and losers. What scenarios are possible? As part of the Geopolitics and Energy Transformation 2030 (GET 2030) project at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP), a team of international experts has looked into the developments that are conceivable in the international energy transition and their geopolitical implications. A team led by Professor Andreas Goldthau has commented on the results of this investigation in the journal “Nature”. In an interview with the IASS, Goldthau outlined the different possible scenarios.
The distribution grid is the backbone of the energy transition. In Germany, over 1.5 million decentralised energy systems now feed their output into the electricity grids managed by around 900 distribution system operators. Their management costs have increased considerably as a result. How do German distribution system operators cope with the challenges they face, and what can other countries learn from them? IASS researchers explored these questions in a representative survey. Their findings have been published in the journal Renewable Energy.
The second edition of the Social Sustainability Barometer for the German Energiewende offers insights into public opinion on this important issue. Following a presentation by social scientist and author Daniela Setton of the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies (IASS), a panel of experts highlighted some of the key findings.
A clear majority of Germans across all income brackets, age groups and educational backgrounds still supports the Energiewende. Indeed, since the publication of the first Social Sustainability Barometer in 2017, there has been a notable rise in the number of people who view the energy transition as a broad societal task to which they personally want to contribute. However, there is growing criticism of the implementation of the energy transition by the German Government: Three quarters of respondents describe the process as “expensive”, while over half view it as “chaotic” and “unfair”.
Transforming Germany’s large power grid into a sustainable energy system is both a challenge and an opportunity. To succeed in this task, we need criteria that define sustainability and reflect society’s values and priorities. A research team in the Kopernikus Project “Energy Transition Navigation System | ENavi” has now developed a set of criteria that integrates a diverse range of perspectives.
Germany and Israel are pursuing ambitious goals in the expansion of renewable energies and the development of innovative technologies. A new fellowship programme aims to foster a lively exchange of ideas among professionals in both countries.
People are often apprehensive when they hear about plans to build a wind farm in their locality. They wonder how it will change the landscape. And whether the noise of the rotor blades will get on their nerves. People need information about the planned changes, but their direct involvement in the decision-making process is also important, because the expansion of wind energy depends on public acceptance. The Fachagentur Windenergie an Land and the IASS invited representatives from politics, the energy sector, and civil society to participate in the 3rd Workshop on Public Participation in the Development of Wind Farms on 15 and 16 January.
Democracy, science, and the rule of law are increasingly coming under pressure. How can we defend them? How can we harness new technologies and use our knowledge, ingenuity and wealth to achieve the goal of sustainable development: a good life for all? To mark the eightieth birthday of former Minister of the Environment and IASS Founding Director Klaus Töpfer, the Federal Ministry of Education and Research and the IASS held a symposium titled “Friends of the Open Society” on 21 November 2018.
A new technology developed in a joint research project by scientists at Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) and the Institute of Advanced Sustainability Studies (IASS) promises to provide energy from natural gas without producing harmful CO2 emissions. The process converts natural gas, which consists primarily of methane, into hydrogen and solid carbon. The researchers have been recognized for their work with the Innovation Award of the German Gas Industry.
The days of Germany’s lignite-mining industry are numbered, that much is clear. The Coal Commission appointed by the Federal Government now has the job of planning how exactly the phaseout will proceed. One issue that is often overlooked in this context is the question of how the rehabilitation of former coal-mining sites is to be financed. A new IASS Discussion Paper examines the risks inherent in the existing financing practice and makes concrete proposals for changes.
A small footprint, more capacity and no losses - these are the main advantages of superconducting links for electricity transmission compared to conventional solutions. But how far is this new technology from deployment? Experts from the energy sector discussed the hurdles and chances at the final conference of the EU project Best Paths in Brussels.
Together with transmission system operators, partners from industry and science presented the results of ground-breaking research on a superconducting cable system at an international workshop on 5 July in La Spezia, Italy.
On 27 June the Federal Cabinet gave its stamp of approval to the 6th Energiewende Monitoring Report submitted by Economic Affairs Minister Peter Altmaier (CDU). In a statement on the report, the independent expert commission charged with observing the monitoring process has for the first time compiled indicators on public acceptance, drawing on the Social Sustainability Barometer for the German Energiewende. The Barometer, which monitors the social dimensions of the energy transition, was prepared for the first time in 2017 by the IASS in the context of the dynamis partnership.
The region of Lusatia in Eastern Germany is experiencing a structural transformation due to the dwindling significance of lignite. In a new research project, the IASS will investigate the changes taking place there. Karl Eugen Huthmacher from the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) and IASS Scientific Director Patrizia Nanz presented the project at the Lusatia Dialogue on 25 June.
The international energy transition is already delivering numerous benefits, but it is also creating new inequalities. The risks posed by this transformation will impact especially on developing countries, which lack access to technologies and capital. What, then, can be done to ensure that these countries too can make the transition to a low-carbon economy? This question is the focus of a new project that will study the systemic impacts of the global energy transition.
What do citizens in France and Germany see as the key criteria for a fair energy transition? The Heinrich Böll Foundation France and the IASS presented two studies to 50 stakeholders from the policy community, business, science and civil society at an event in Brussels.
To transport electricity effectively, a superconductor has to be inside an extremely well-insulated tube with an interior temperature of -200°C. Researchers at the IASS, the ESPCI engineering college in Paris, and French cable manufacturer Nexans have now developed a novel form of insulation that is compatible with the low temperatures and the high operating voltage of 320 kilovolts.
The Governor of Brandenburg and members of the state government came to the IASS on 12 December to discuss energy policy and climate protection. Together with the directors of the IASS and the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK), they explored the idea of a Future Commission to ensure that Brandenburg’s energy transition is socially responsible and economically sustainable.
Digitalisation and globalisation are fundamentally changing the working world. International experts discussed the consequences at the “Thinking Space on the Future of Gainful Employment” held at the IASS on 30 November and 1 December.
With Carbon Capture and Utilisation (CCU) technologies, carbon dioxide can be converted into products such as building materials, chemicals, and fuels. A new study investigates perceptions of carbon utilisation technologies in the UK and Germany.
Countries have responded differently to the large societal and economic impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic. While some view the crisis as a window of opportunity for new technologies and approaches to achieve climate neutrality, others will be tempted to reinforce their dependence on old technologies, leading to a carbon lock-in. Israel’s response as a start-up nation is promising, but further measures are needed to support a green transition.
In the European Commission’s “Coronavirus response”, President von der Leyen recently announced the aim of building “a modern, clean and healthy economy, which secures the livelihoods of the next generation”. But what does that mean for high emitting industrial sectors such as cement production? Are they part of “yesterday’s economy”, or will they successfully transition to more sustainable modes of production? Over half of all the materials that humans use on Earth are “cementitious” – including concrete, cement and other building materials – and it is difficult to imagine a life without cement.
Thanks to plummeting prices for electricity generated from renewables, the energy transition in the electricity sector has really taken off. It has also been at the forefront of recent public debates on the coal exit and minimum distance rules for wind turbines. But it is the heating sector that accounts for most of Germany’s energy consumption: According to the German Environment Agency, building heating alone represents around 32 per cent of the country’s total energy consumption. So the energy transition in the heating sector is a key arena for successful climate protection. The Building Energy Act (Gebäudeenergiegesetz) adopted by the German Bundestag on 18 June explicitly refers to the need for action in this sector.
The vital role of electrification in emergency response has become strikingly clear during the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. Electricity is indispensable for the effective operation of healthcare facilities and the provision of health services, the timely diffusion of information, and undisrupted communications at a time when social isolation measures are in place. Access to electrification also makes it easier to carry out important household activities and follow essential hygiene recommendations. The pandemic has therefore served as a reminder of the vulnerability of the 860 million people who have no access to electricity, most of whom live in sub-Saharan Africa.
Argentina is among the countries hardest hit by the social and economic consequences of the current pandemic. In order to mitigate the impacts of the crisis, the government is responding with some immediate relief measures – tax deferrals, subsidies for low-income families, and special financial measures for different sectors including energy – as well as planning a quite ambitious recovery program. The decisions that are being taken today are likely to have a profound effect on the energy sector for decades to come. These decisions are influenced by visions and narratives associated with different sectors, with oil and gas being the “golden goose” and renewables the “ugly duckling”.
The corona pandemic caught our society off guard. That is one reason for the scale of the crisis. This makes it all the more important to learn from the current situation, not least in the area of climate and energy policy. In what follows, I discuss the lessons we can draw from the crisis in reflections clustered around the terms vulnerability, resilience and solidarity.
The corona crisis is not only threatening our health; it’s also shaking our economic systems to the core. A fall of global stock markets by as much as35 per centin the first quarter of this year means that a recession is imminent. The energy sector is also affected, with the price of oil plummetingand renewable energies also facing difficulties. Coronavirus infections, prolonged curfews, short-time work, and border closures are all affecting the supply chains of wind and solar energy technologies. Investment has all but dried up. In this situation we can learn from the experience of tackling previous economic crises and should opt for a “green” stimulus package in a three-step government programme of relief, recovery and reform. To accelerate and bolster the energy transition, all of the measures implemented in these three steps need to be scrutinised for their long-term viability.
The international health crisis has exposed a serious problem for energy systems – we’re not taking renewable energy technology seriously as a critical asset. Most solar panels today are made in China, and a shortage of key components means that Europe is now facing major delays in new installations. Wind power faces a double whammy – manufacturing is down, and countries may not have the personnel and parts locally to keep systems running. Countries should aim to build up national clean tech infrastructure in the same way that they ensure strategic reserves of fossil fuels.
The Europe-wide shutdown is reducing both energy consumption and carbon dioxide emissions. At first glance, this might seem like good news. But it has also caused CO2 certificates traded under the European Union Emissions Trading System to lose a third of their value since March. Economic activity is expected to be significantly depressed over the coming weeks and months and production capacities underused.
Hydrogen is dominating the debate on Germany’s energy transition at present. But it will require forward planning and considerable international coordination to get the market up and running. The European Union has a key role to play in this process.
The U.S. and Germany are moving in fundamentally different directions with their energy policies. Germany has embarked on its “Energiewende,” an energy strategy based on renewable energy and energy efficiency as well as the phase-out of fossil fuels and nuclear energy. It is an important building block in the country’s climate protection endeavors. The U.S. under the Trump administration has abandoned its national and international climate commitments. It is pursuing an “Energy Dominance” strategy that seeks to expand the production of U.S. coal, natural gas, and oil. This strategy marks a significant departure from the Obama administration, which pursued a climate action plan focused on fostering clean energy in the U.S. and abroad.
Several countries’ national determined contributions (NDCs) highlight climate finance as a precondition for the ambitious action needed to achieve development paths compatible with limiting global warming to 1.5°C in 2100. Many hopes have been pinned on new market mechanisms in this context, but the trade-offs demanded by carbon trading schemes continued to be hotly debated at the UNFCCC last week, not least due to their political and economic implications.
In the upcoming days Japan will hosts its first ever G20 Summit. As the main contributers to global warming, the G20 states agreed 2009 on a phase out plan of fossil fuel subsidies. Ten years later the failure of the G20 to act on global warming is evident: around $63.9 billion was spent by G20 countries this year to develop coal industries in the global south.
The Group of Twenty (G20), a federation of the most important industrialised and emerging countries, is a crucial forum for initiating a clean-energy transition at the global level. Its member states account for nearly 80 per cent of the world's energy demand and more than 80 per cent of global CO2 emissions. The G20 brings together key players in international energy markets and international institutions along with major energy exporters. According to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), a concerted effort on the part of G20 nations could increase the global share of renewable energy sources to 44 percent by 2030.
But a successful move away from fossil fuels remains to be seen, not only in the US, where President Trump intends to withdraw from the Paris Agreement, but also among the other G20 members. Indeed, 82% of the primary energy in G20 states is still fossil-based. Since assuming the G20 presidency, in 2019, Japan has been pushing for renewed sustainable energy efforts in the G20.
With the Structural Adjustment Act, the German government intends to provide 40 billion euros of federal funding for the coal-mining areas of Germany. In addition, an emergency fund of 260 million euros is earmarked for short-term projects. However, the effect of these funds will remain modest if the federal and state governments do not go further than previously planned in implementing the costly coal exit. They risk losing sight of three essential goals: enabling sustainability, strengthening regional activity, and learning to shape transformation.
Today, emerging visions of a better society are forged in practical experience and experimentation. The contexts, approaches, and methods employed by activists differ radically from one experiment to the next. As researchers with the IASS project Politicizing the Future, we were keen to facilitate exchange on the subject of societal visions among activists from very different contexts and to see what could be learnt from their experiences for the development of more sustainable societies.
Roll up your sleeves, seize every opportunity and take the future by the horns! Surely that is the best way to approach the transformation of the economy in the region of Lusatia? Played up by policymakers, this upbeat narrative is indeed vital to the success of what is a mammoth undertaking. But so too are the experiences of people and institutions across the region. As scientists working in the field of sustainable development, we must consider the broader social context of efforts to foster a less-resource intensive economy and way of life in Lusatia.
Exhibiting the fastest growth among all fuels in the electricity sector, renewables are about to fundamentally change the energy system. This change is hoped to bring about important social and economic co-benefits, including sustainable and affordable energy for all, green job opportunities, and increased human health and wellbeing. But there may also be some fundamentally political implications of the low carbon shift. This is what a high level group of global leaders was tasked to look into, the result of which was published in their recent report titled A New World The Geopolitics of the Energy Transformation, published by IRENA, the international renewable energy agency.
The “Green Me Global Festival for Sustainability” is an annual event hosted at different locations around the world. Recent iterations of the festival have explored the elements earth, water and air across film screenings, discussions, and other initiatives. Researchers from the IASS have contributed to a number of these events over the years. The eleventh GreenMe Festival will take place in Berlin later this year under the motto “Action, Passion, Fire”. This prompted me to explore the themes of fire and sustainability in a dinner speech at a recent function to which sponsors and supporters of the festival were invited in early May. The following essay draws upon my comments there.
In the fight against climate change, it’s vital that developing and emerging nations also abandon their fossil fuels, which are a major source of greenhouse gas emissions. The co-benefits of renewable energy policies can become a decisive argument for structural change.
Germany is widely regarded as an international frontrunner in the global energy transition. Efforts to promote renewable energy have played a key role in lowering the cost of wind and solar power and contributed significantly to the growth of these technologies around the world.
As the world gathered in Bonn for its twenty-third Conference of the Parties (COP23), the newly published Emissions Gap Report 2017 by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) helped to underline the mantra of the conference: all countries need to raise their climate protection efforts quickly and substantially.
The report shows that even if fully implemented, each nation’s current nationally determined commitments (NDCs), laid out by each of the signatories to th
Clean energy was a key climate policy instrument during the Obama presidency. Obama also understood the promotion of renewable energy, energy efficiency, and comparatively low-emission natural gas as a driver of economic growth (Obama, 2017). Donald Trump has set out his energy policy in the America First Energy Plan – a strategy paper that stretches to about half an A4 page. It focuses on the promotion of fossil fuels with the aim of promoting economic growth and making the country energy independent (The White House, 2017a) .