The German energy turnaround is an ambitious project, which inspires
innovations but also arouses opposition. The State Government of
North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) has decided to take on a pioneering
role in this domain, without jeopardising the industrial location.
The impacts of climate change have long been evident in the cities and regions of the energy state of North Rhine-Westphalia: extreme weather events such as heat waves and torrential rain have caused severe damage over the past few years. The rise in temperature as well as its effects on our health and quality of life are also presenting us with new challenges. One thing is certain: we must take action to avert the worst consequences of climate change.
Measured by the proportion of the world population, Germany accounts for an exceptionally high proportion of global CO2 emissions: North Rhine-Westphalia represents around 30 per cent of the CO2 emissions generated across Germany. Therefore, we have a particular responsibility towards reducing greenhouse gases and bringing about a successful national energy turnaround. The state government has recognised the need for action and has implemented the first climate protection act. This sets out the obligation of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by at least 25 per cent before 2020 and by at least 80 per cent before 2050 in comparison to the base year 1990.
The national energy turnaround is dependent on the number one energy state. This energy turnaround cannot succeed and climate targets will not be achieved if NRW continues to use a ten per cent share of renewable energy sources. The energy turnaround established in NRW is both a unique challenge and a great opportunity. NRW already boasts experience in further developing the energy industry and therefore provides the best possible prerequisites. At least 30 per cent of electricity in NRW should be produced from renewable energy sources by 2025. In order to accomplish these targets, the conservation of resources, energy saving as well as energy and resource efficiency must be enhanced.
Integrative concepts, intelligent management on both the production and demand side as well as an expansion of grids and storage facilities are essential in order to interlink all elements of the whole energy system. The expansion of the transregional transmission network levels is only one aspect. In future, wind and solar energy will be the key components of energy production. To compensate for the fluctuating availability of renewable energies, comprehensive options for flexibility must be established to guarantee a supply during so-called “shortfalls”. In addition to expansion, measures in support of energy efficiency and energy conservation also need to be implemented to the same extent. We must consistently make use of the synergistic effects generated by the coupling of electricity, heat and cooling markets and transport. Besides, we need a new design for the energy and electricity market where renewable energies are the focus.
Climate protection as an industrial growth engine. We have to regard the energy turnaround and climate protection as an industrial political opportunity for innovative and ecological growth. Particularly NRW, with its strong industry, provides a solid platform for the development of climate protection technologies and processes by which market shares are gained worldwide.
The best and most innovative companies in all the climate-related fields, for instance in power plant technology, mechanical engineering, chemistry, logistics or communications technology, are situated here.
NRW is the number one state for industry in Germany and that will remain so. A climate-friendly energy supply and mobility, a sustainable use of resources and the limitation of environmental pollution require innovative technologies and services of the economy, as do the energy turnaround and sustainable transformation of the industrial base. Here is a specific example: in the steel industry, the European blast furnaces have taken on a leading role in the last years when compared to the rest of the world due to technological developments of the manufacturing and processing methods. The primary energy consumption of fossil fuels was reduced by 20 per cent over the last 15 years. A saving of 36 per cent should be achieved before 2020. Raw material and energy related CO2 emissions were already cut back by 15.9 per cent from 1990 to 2006. The industry as a whole makes significant contributions to climate protection with energy-efficient processes and products and it has acknowledged that the energy turnaround is an economic opportunity for NRW.
Planning and investment security for renewable energy. One of the state government’s essential objectives is to expand renewable energies. We are actively directing our efforts on increasing energy and resource efficiency and energy production from renewable sources. However, the federal government and the EU must also establish the appropriate framework conditions. Controversial debates only lead to feelings of uncertainty as well as an unwillingness to invest in the expansion of renewable energy. Sun and wind are low-cost energy sources and exert downward pressure on prices on the electricity exchange. However, the prices are not passed directly on to the consumers. To ensure that energy remains affordable and that urgently required, highly efficient and flexible gas power plants can be operated economically, the price structure of the electricity exchanges must be altered and presented in a more realistic light.
The low costs of producing energy from renewable energy sources must be passed on to the consumers.
The European Emissions Trading Scheme is an important instrument which is not working in its current form; however, an adjustment of the number and price of the certificates is urgently needed. Scarcity and price increases will ensure a fair distribution of the costs and a market-driven energy-switch.
Equally, the EEG must be further developed from a market entry instrument to a market design instrument. In order to generate ecological and climate-friendly energy, priority of feed-in and connection and transmission of renewable energies must be maintained in full. Priority in consumption of renewable energies must also be maintained as this is the only way to guarantee planning and investment security and the realistic and fair distribution of the costs of energy supply.
Until then, NRW has to use its strengths and assume a pioneering role with regard to climate protection and the energy turnaround. With its unique mix of large companies, small to medium sized businesses as well as superb research facilities and training possibilities, our state offers ideal preconditions for the future-orientated development of climate protection and energy technologies.
North Rhine-Westphalia is the number one energy state and that is how it should remain in the future. This will only be possible if we rethink things and invest in a secure, clean and affordable future. The long-term benefits of the energy turnaround with its positive effects on the economy as a whole are a key aim for the state government.
We want North Rhine-Westphalia to develop into a leading state for energy and climate protection in Europe and thrive as a pioneering centre of research and business. This is the energy turnaround established in NRW.
The author, born in 1962 in Siegen, Germany, was a member of the Landtag (state parliament) of North Rhine-Westphalia for the party Bündnis 90/Die Grünen between the years 1995 and 2012. Since 2010, he has been the Minister for Climate Protection, Environment, Agriculture, Conservation and Consumer Protection of the German State of North Rhine-Westphalia.