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Published on February 23rd, 2017 | by The Beam


Andreas Kuhlmann: “The Energiewende — or let’s rather say ‘energy transition’ — is in transition itself.”

February 23rd, 2017 by  

The Beam interview series, edition 26: Andreas Kuhlmann

CleanTechnica keeps on publishing some of The Beam interviews twice a week. The Beam magazine takes a modern perspective on the energy transition, interviewing inspirational people from around the world that shape our sustainable energy future.

This week Anne-Sophie Garrigou, journalist at The Beam, interviewed Andreas Kuhlmann, Chief Executive of the German Energy Agency (dena) since 2015. Andreas Kuhlmann talks about Germany’s Energiewende and dena’s new initiative, the “Start Up Energy Transition” that, in his words, aims to “bring pioneers and enablers of global energy transition together, and to establish an international network of companies, start-ups and sustainability-conscious organisation.”

Hello Andreas Kuhlmann and thank you for taking the time to meet us today. You have been the Chief Executive of dena since 2015. How did you find yourself in this position? What is your story?

I started working at dena in July 2015, and I was very excited to get this opportunity. Climate change and the energy transition have always been important topics for me: fascinating challenges, everything but easy. Working for dena is a chance to really focus on concrete projects and burning questions at the interface between politics and the economy. And there’s a great team here at dena.

I myself am a physicist. I worked on carbon cycle issues and, as a student, I measured CO2 from a clean air station in Alert, Canada. I remember figures [at] around 350 ppm. Now we are above 400. A graph with this climate change fever curve hangs in my office — just to remind everybody that something really is going on.

My grandfather worked underground — ‘unter Tage’, as we say in German — in a coal mine in the Ruhr district. My father worked as an electrician. And now I have the chance to be part of history, shaping the energy transition with dena. Before this, I was Head of Strategy and Politics at the German Association of Energy and Water (BDEW). And before that, I was able to gather a lot of experience in different positions — in Brussels, at the German Bundestag, and in government. I also worked at the German Embassy in Stockholm for two years. A great city, nowadays even for startups.

For our readers who are not from Germany, or who don’t know about it, can you explain what the ‘Energiewende’ is, and why it is so important?

Is there really anyone out there who doesn’t know about the Energiewende? Then we really have to work harder at telling people about it (just kidding!) The word ‘Energiewende’ refers to a major change in our energy system. It started at some point in the 1990s, when a few people had the idea of producing energy from wind and solar power instead of nuclear. A real push came around 2000. Germany passed the feed-in tariff law known as the Renewable Energy Sources Act , which made it much easier to connect alternative electricity to the grid. At the same time, Germany decided to abandon nuclear power for the first time. So, in the beginning, the energy transition was mainly about taking wind and solar power out of their niche, and getting rid of nuclear power. We started with about 5 per cent renewable energy in the electricity sector, based on hydropower. Now we are at about 35 per cent!

But things are changing. The Energiewende — or let’s rather say ‘energy transition’ — is in transition itself. Wind and solar have grown up and bringing more of them into the grid is still important. But the really innovative and interesting question today is: how do we get all these decentralised components connected and make something really smart out of it? Digitalisation and decentralisation are the driving forces. More and more smart companies and smart ideas are springing up. Fascinating! A good place to be. In other words: if you’re smart, come to the country of energy transition! Or work on the energy transition in any of the other countries, all over the world, who signed the Paris Agreement.

What is the role of dena in helping to achieve the energy transition?

Unlike other national agencies, we are a company, not an administrative body. Our shareholders include the government, but also partners from the financial sector, such as KfW Bankengruppe. We identify important issues and trends in energy transition, and work on studies and projects with all kind of stakeholders in Germany and abroad, especially in China. In general, our main concerns are energy efficiency in all sectors, and systemic issues related to the energy transition.

We are currently focusing very strongly on innovation in energy transition. We want to show that there are major changes and new opportunities ahead. We can see very interesting new players and business models in the energy transition. And we want to help develop the right conditions to make them successful. That’s why we’ve just started a global project: Start Up Energy Transition. A global startup award that aims to create a global network focussing on innovation in energy transition. More than 70 partners from more than 20 countries are already supporting this project. If you want to know more, visit startup-energy-transition.com.

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About the Author

The Beam Magazine is a quarterly print publication that takes a modern perspective on the energy transition. From Berlin we report about the people, companies and organizations that shape our sustainable energy future around the world. The team is headed by journalist Anne-Sophie Garrigou and designer Dimitris Gkikas. The Beam works with a network of experts and contributors to cover topics from technology to art, from policy to sustainability, from VCs to cleantech start ups. Our language is energy transition and that's spoken everywhere. The Beam is already being distributed in most countries in Europe, but also in Niger, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, Japan, Chile and the United States. And this is just the beginning. So stay tuned for future development and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Medium.

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