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Published on September 22nd, 2017 | by The Beam


The Future Of Germany’s Energy Transition Policy: An Interview With Patrick Graichen, Director Of Agora Energiewende

September 22nd, 2017 by  

The Beam interview series, edition 45: Patrick Graichen

We are on the eve of the German election. We thought this was a perfect time to interview one of the main actors of the Energiewende: Patrick Graichen, the Director of Agora Energiewende, a think tank and policy laboratory that develops scientifically based and politically feasible approaches for ensuring the success of the German energy transition.

“I am a child of the ’80s  —  the decade when the nuclear disaster at Chernobyl happened and it became clear that climate change was a real threat to the planet.”

Patrick Graichen has an impressive commitment to the energy transition. From 2001 to 2012, he worked at the Federal Ministry for Environment: first in the area of international climate policy; then from 2004 to 2006 as Personal Assistant to the Secretary of State in the ministry; and from 2007 as Head of the Unit for Energy and Climate Change Policy. His extensive work heading economic negotiations and legislative procedures for EU and international treaties such as the Kyoto Protocol, plus his Ph.D. on municipal energy policy from the Interdisciplinary Institute for Environmental Economics, University of Heidelberg, just add why we wanted to have this insightful conversation with Patrick Graichen.

You’ve headed negotiating the design of the economic instruments of the Kyoto Protocol, the Integrated Energy and Climate Programme of the Federal Government (2007), and the EU’s Climate and Energy Package (2008). Where does your commitment to the energy transition come from?

I could add my Ph.D. thesis on local energy cooperatives and my youth at Friends of the Earth to your list. But most of all I am a child of the ’80s  —  the decade when the nuclear disaster at Chernobyl happened and it became clear that climate change was a real threat to the planet. I became aware that it is up to my generation to prevent mankind from those mega risks. And if you really want to matter and make a difference, you have to choose a career related to politics and government. In this sense, the chance to lead Agora Energiewende is a great opportunity. We do not belong to any lobby group or political party, and at the same time we are very partisan regarding our topic, making the energy transition a success. This very special constellation allows us to develop pathways which will last for longer than just one legislative period and are not bound to a particular government. And this is exactly what a generation-spanning project like the Energiewende needs.

In recent years, we’ve seen numerous positive trends in Germany’s policy towards the transition to green energy. Is the speed of change fast enough to meet the climate and efficiency targets set for 2020?

As part of the decision of the government on the Energiewende in 2010/2011, a set of targets was agreed on: nuclear phase out, renewables built up, efficiency and greenhouse gas emissions. Today we see that in terms of renewables and nuclear, everything is working as planned, but we are lacking on efficiency and overall greenhouse gas emissions. The reason is that we have good laws on nuclear and renewables but little regulation on efficiency and coal. It’s the job of the next government to act on this and come up with stark efficiency and climate regulations. Otherwise we will fail our 2020 targets.

Energy policy remains the topic of intense debate worldwide. What are the remaining challenges that Germany needs to overcome for its energy transition to succeed?

We need a consensus on how to deal with coal and oil. From a climate perspective it is more than clear that we have to cut in half our coal and oil use by 2030 and to stop burning coal altogether by 2035. But that means also to transform those industries that depend on coal and oil and to organize a just transition for those working in these sectors. A good consensus needs to address those questions. Those are the obstacles, they are not on the question whether a power system based on renewables is reliable or even technical feasible  —  we already know it is.

According to Agora Energiewende’s research, what are the first measures to implement today to improve our global energy efficiency?

The most important is to change the mindset of the policy makers. Try to implement an “efficiency first” strategy in literally every law related to infrastructure. Always think: “Could it be cheaper to invest in the non-usage of power than in new infrastructure to provide additional power?” This will be the case in probably in nine of 10 times when you have to make such a decision. Unfortunately, this is a very un-sexy approach for politicians  — think of all the red ribbons remaining uncut. But in terms of getting the best return-on-invest from your country’s infrastructure and to secure funds for other important public purposes like education or healthcare “efficiency first” is a winning strategy.

Read the entire interview here.

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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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