Germany is the world’s second largest exporter, and export-oriented industries form the backbone of the German economy. At the same time, Germany has set itself ambitious targets for energy efficiency and the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. How to reconcile these seemingly opposing objectives was the subject of a transatlantic Dinner Dialogue on 22 February 2011 with senior staff members of U.S. Congress Representatives, featuring Parliamentary State Secretary Ursula Heinen-Esser of the German Federal Environment Ministry and Dr. Liendel Chang of the Volkswagen Group as guest speakers.
State Secretary Ursula Heinen-Esser opened the evening with an overview of Germany’s energy and climate targets, and the policies in place to achieve these targets. Energy efficiency and renewable energies are the two main levers to push, and Germany has made progress on both fronts.
For renewables, Germany has witnessed impressive growth over the last decades, and further growth is necessary. However, as the recent reform of the feed-in tariff for solar Photovoltaic has shown, energy affordability and the cost to consumers need to be watched. On energy efficiency, Ursula Heinen-Esser underlined the need to reduce primary energy consumption by making gains in energy productivity. Key measures in this respect are to modernize the building stock and to reduce energy consumption in the transport sector.
In the discussion, she highlighted the role of Germany’s Energy Concept. The concept is Germany’s roadmap to 2050 to achieve an "environmentally sound, reliable, and affordable energy supply." It integrates Germany’s climate protection targets—by 2020 Germany has pledged to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 40% (compared to 1990 levels), and even by 80-95% by mid-century. To achieve these targets will require nothing short of a radical transformation of Germany’s energy system. In a highly industrialized country, this can only be achieved through continuous dialogue with industry.
Dr. Liendel Chang of the Volkswagen Group complemented this with a view from the business perspective. He gave an overview of how Volkswagen is preparing for supplying future mobility needs, citing Germany’s goal to have 6 million electric cars on the road by 2030. Eventually, electric cars may turn out as the best way to produce eco-friendly mobility which significantly reduces fuel consumption and CO2 emissions. However, as of now, an all electric vehicle with a sufficient driving range is not yet available to market. Sketching the way forward, Dr. Chang provided an overview of the company’s strategy to transition the drive train from combustion engines to cars with electric drives:
Volkswagen believes that more cars will be powered by electricity in the future, with the primary first markets being large urban centers. Meanwhile, hybrid and electric technologies are being developed. The hybrid drive is the first step towards all-electric vehicles. With the support of the German Environment Ministry, the company is fleet testing its Golf Twin Drive "plug-in hybrid", a vehicle with both a conventional diesel engine and electric engine, with an all electric driving range of up to 50 kilometers (for longer trips, the diesel engine charges the battery). The company continues to develop electric motors with higher ranges, expecting to bring to market an all-electric vehicle with a 250 kilometer range in the next decade.
The two introductory statements prompted a lively transatlantic discussion, exploring some of the differences between the United States and Germany with respect to their climate and energy strategies. The discussion touched upon the role of nuclear power and public attitudes towards it, the necessity to adapt the electricity grid to a higher share of renewable electricity, and the question whether low-carbon strategies would be a threat or a boon for competitiveness and job creation.
The Ecologic Institute hosted the Dinner Dialogue as part of the 2011 Senior Congressional Staff Study Tour, which is organized by the Congressional Study Group on Germany under the United States Association of Former Members of Congress. Participants included senior staff members of U.S. Congress Representatives from Kentucky, North Carolina, Illinois, Tennessee, Texas, New York, Georgia and Missouri.
- Ursula Heinen-Esser
- Ecologic Institute Publication: Security Through Energy Policy: Germany at the Crossroads
- Ecologic Institute Publication: Bypassing Germany’s Reformstau: The Remarkable Rise of Renewable Energy
- Ecologic Institute Publication: Transforming Economies through Green Investment: Needs, Progress and Policies
- Dinner Dialogue: Transatlantic Transition towards a Low Carbon Economy – Christopher Flavin
- Transatlantic Visitors Program: Green Jobs – Green Growth: The New Energy Economy
- Transatlantic Media Dialogue: Climate Change and Climate Policy in Europe and the US – Opportunities and Challenges in the Run-Up to the Copenhagen Summit and Beyond