Attending the Hannover Messe 2016 manufacturing trade fair in Germany gave me hope that humanity can be innovative enough in its energy use that we don’t overheat our planet with carbon emissions. Indeed, unlike most trade fairs or conferences, there was excitement for a low-carbon economy.
I was particularly impressed by Germany’s leadership, which is richly deserved. While most countries were denying climate change was a reality, Germany stepped beyond that by boldly declaring in 2012 that it would be 100% renewable energy by 2020.
Germany had seen the Fukushima nuclear disaster, and saw its own vulnerability. Germany’s leaders had come to the conclusion it could not afford a similar disaster, nor could it justify the future cost of indefinitely storing radioactive nuclear waste.
I was at the World Wind Energy Conference in Bonn when this announcement was made, and even renewable energy advocates found this to be an astounding announcement. It was a historic moment!
What made Germany’s commitment to 100% renewable energy more than a pipe dream is that it has a holistic view for this transition. By using wind farms as the thin edge of the wedge to modernize its electrification infrastructure to a smart grid, Germany also declared it would transform its entire energy infrastructure to meet its energy needs for the 21st century.
This means that, in addition to electricity, the energy infrastructure includes heating, water, and storage. They know about 75% of energy is currently wasted. They saw an opportunity to do things better, encourage energy conservation, and create new
middle-class jobs. They also saw this as an opportunity to reduce their energy vulnerability from climatic, political, and mechanical causes.
At Hannover Messe innovations were introduced, such as Integrated Energy (this covers the complete supply chain in the energy industry from generation, transmission, distribution, and storage to alternative mobility solutions), the Digital Factory (convergence of the internet on businesses), and Energy (energy efficiency, renewable energy, electric vehicles, and approaches that realize savings across the entire company). Although these are geared towards manufacturing companies, they can apply to all companies.
Germany is clearly the leader in the new low-carbon world judging from the type of companies that were at Hannover Messe, particularly with a strong U.S. presence. The attendance of President Obama and Chancellor Merkel signals the political commitment to innovation in the low-carbon economy.
I also noted Germany’s implementation of higher prices, which ensures the success of its energy policies to keep demand low. This is part of Germany’s holistic approach in the adoption of an energy conservation culture; energy conservation is the cheapest solution since the energy is not spent in the first place.
For example, Germany has a tax on fuel in addition to requiring a higher minimum grade of fuel (98 instead of 87). At 1.24 to 1.48 euros per liter (US$1.66 or CAD$2.15), a fill-up is expensive even for fuel efficient vehicles. In addition, car owners are taxed yearly based on the size of their engines. As a result, there are fewer cars on the road, and they are newer. This is why the two-lane autobahns are in good condition and not crowded. There are no speed limits, except in construction zones, so cars exceed 200km. Government expenditures on road infrastructure are manageable.
In terms of jobs, the wind turbine manufacturers were present at Hannover Messe, and are big employers that are growing significantly as their products are becoming mainstream.
What I saw at Hannover Messe is that innovations are providing the solutions. The sooner we adopt these innovations, the sooner we will have a low-carbon economy. This is good for all of us, including the planet.
FirstCarbon Solutions (FCS) advances sustainability practices and helps organizations reduce costs, while optimizing resource use. With industry expertise in providing Energy Management solutions, FCS helps global organizations reduce carbon footprints and mitigate the impacts of global climate change. To learn more about the possibility of a low-carbon future, read this FCS Blog article.