“We don’t have to import nuclear power”

A marathon race that has just begun – that is the energy transition for economist claudia kemfert. Patience and staying power pay off, because the german economy stands to benefit more than any other country from the restructuring of the energy sector.

Nuclear phase-out by 2022, dwindling reserves of raw materials, climate change – but claudia kemfert sees the energy transition above all as an opportunity. The energy expert from the german institute for economic research says that the state of bavaria is well placed to achieve its goals.

The grafenrheinfeld nuclear power plant in bavaria will be taken off the grid in 2015. The temelin nuclear power plant near the border in the czech republic is to be expanded by two reactors. How much nuclear power will we import?
Claudia kemfert: we don"t need to import nuclear power at all if we invest enough in germany and bavaria in power plants and grids, in decentralized production and intelligent consumption, and in energy saving. We need efficiency improvements, and we need our own electricity capacities in the country. Above all, we need a smart market design: renewable energies have volatilities (fluctuations over time), which can be compensated for by intelligent supply and demand management and the use of electricity storage facilities. In principle, however, we also need the european alliance and must coordinate more closely than before with neighboring countries.

Some propagate a european electricity economy with coarse installations. The others see the solution in small regional plants. Who is right?
Both. There will be both, and one should not be played off against the other. Large-scale projects will be needed, such as wind and water and storage power plants in scandinavia, solar plants in southern europe, and decentralized plants on site. More and more energy cooperatives are emerging, municipalities are using more and more renewable energy and decentralized supply. The EU's goal is to increase the share of renewable energy in europe to 80 percent in 2050. All solutions are needed.

Electricity shortfalls, skyrocketing prices, a return to fossil fuels and thus the destruction of the earth's climate – what are the worst consequences of the nuclear phase-out??
It depends on how we replace nuclear power. If a lot of coal-fired power plants are built, emissions will increase. Currently, the carbon price is too low to provide sufficient financial incentives for investment in gas-fired power plants. Emissions trading at EU level had to be adjusted by reducing the quantity of carbon allowances and adjusting the caps to prevent the price of carbon from falling further. First and foremost, decentralized renewable energies will increase. The price of electricity will not explode as a result. Although the possible increase in demand for renewable energies through the EEG levy has a price-increasing effect, the price on the electricity exchange falls when renewable energies increase.

There are always problems with russian gas, the future of the oil-rich countries of north africa is uncertain – the established technologies are all yesterday's news?
In fact, it is not only a question of expanding renewable energies, but also of making the economy more independent of fossil energies in principle, starting with oil. It is therefore important to focus on alternative fuels and technologies, as well as on improving energy efficiency, especially in the industrial, construction and mobile sectors. The chemical industry, for example, is now intensively researching new propulsion technologies, storage, and efficiency or dam materials. These new technologies are the key to the energy turnaround. The german economy can benefit more than any other from the transformation, as investments in renewable energy, energy efficiency, infrastructure, sustainable power plants, and mobility will remain strong. This creates value and jobs.

Subsidies are often criticized – especially the solar requirement, because the german solar industry is nevertheless at the end of its rope. The chinese dominate the market. What has gone wrong?
Chinese companies are also suffering from cost pressures, overcapacity and lower demand. In china, in addition to direct subsidies, favorable loans and financial conditions are being provided to ailing companies. The question there is also how long they are willing to support to this extent. Solar energy as a whole is an industry of the future, and demand will increase in many countries around the world. Every company is well advised to position itself well internationally through innovative technologies and products.

Bavaria pretends to be innovative, but has less favorable conditions for the energy transition than the northern countries with their offshore wind farms. Where does bavaria stand?
Bavaria has set its sights high. The targets for the expansion of renewable energies are ambitious but feasible. Bavaria has very good preconditions due to excellent research and innovative policies. In addition, important companies for the implementation of the energy turnaround are located here. Bavaria has rightly set up the first pilot projects to support the energy transition "on a small scale" to test. I do think that bavaria can manage the energy turnaround if we focus on decentralized energy supply, efficiency improvements and smart market design.

The "thuringer strombrucke", the 380 kv line from halle to schweinfurt will probably not be ready when grafenrheinfeld goes off the grid in 2015. New power plants will not be built overnight either. Which measures are most urgent now??
The energy transition is a marathon race that has just begun. It requires staying power, patience and perseverance. What is important today is that in regions like bavaria, where all nuclear power plants will be taken off the grid in the next eight years, sufficient investments are made in replacement capacity and, above all, that the local decentralized grids are intelligently expanded. We now need to ensure smart market design and involve the demand side much more than before. Finally, we need transparency and information; at present, few people really understand the energy transition. People have to be taken along with them. All this can only work if there is an institution that is responsible and implements the energy transition in the short to long term.

So a ministry of energy?
Yes. The point is that responsibilities and competencies must be clearly assigned, and the various interests must be bundled together. Otherwise, we will continue to get bogged down in individual issues, lose sight of the goal and continue to argue about responsibilities and interpretations. We have neither the time nor the energy. The energy transition must not fail.

The DIW recently called for a national electricity-saving law. What do you expect from it?
Not an electricity saving law, but a stronger focus on energy efficiency improvement. Too much attention is paid to the supply side, often ignoring the fact that targeted efficiency improvements can have a substantial positive impact on the price of electricity, emissions and market development. Electricity prices did not have to rise so much, emissions were lower, the whole energy transition can benefit from energy saving. Saving energy is the "sleeping giant", that needs to be awakened.

The questions were asked by natalie schalk.

Claudia kemfert is head of the energy, transport and environment department at the german institute for economic research (DIW) and teaches energy economics and sustainability as a professor in berlin. The 43-year-old was an advisor to EU president jose manuel barroso and is active on the advisory boards of various research institutions, federal and state ministries and the EU commission. She is a member of the club of rome.


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