SEE parliamentarians visit Berlin, Germany’s administrative and smart development center
Germany is the world’s unofficial champion of energy transition, which is called Energiewende in German. Despite its leadership position and commitment to removing fossil fuels and even nuclear energy from its energy mix, Germany, like other countries around the world, faces numerous challenges concerning the energy sector development planning, but also the sector’s impact on climate. Members of parliaments (MPs) from the South-East European (SEE) region had an opportunity to hear about Germany’s energy transition achievements, but also challenges that the country is yet to face, from representatives of both houses of the German parliament and employees of Germany’s leading organizations and companies in the field of smart development and energy planning.
Regional planning and cooperation – energy above policy
During a two-day study visit to Berlin, which the GIZ Open Regional Fund for South-East Europe – Energy Efficiency (ORF-EE) organized for 18 MPs and parliamentary staff from SEE, in cooperation with its partners – schools of political studies – on behalf of Germany’s Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), the focus was on the significance of strengthening the mechanism of regional cooperation in the area of energy transition. Both the guests and hosts from both houses of the German parliament (the Bundestag and the Bundesrat) agreed that the region, much like the entire world, faces major challenges and that every country has serious targets and obligations concerning energy transition, climate change, and environmental protection. The SEE MPs and their hosts were unanimous in that the solution is in the further development of renewable energy sources (RES) and the implementation of measures to improve energy efficiency.
Joachim Gaube, ORF-EE Sector Fund Manager
„One of the most important outcomes of the study tour to Berlin is that parliamentarians from the whole South-East European region have come together to talk about energy transition, jointly looking for solutions without the implications of politics. Bundesrat, although a complex system, is a good example of good governance in action, demonstrating SEE parliamentarians that, despite its complexity, politicians can easily come to democratic decisions. Furthermore, the topic of energy efficiency is not very popular in politics, especially since the focus is on finances – saving and spending. However, following the success of the study tour, GIZ ORF-EE intends to continue with the format and further develop it to provide SEE parliamentarians a forum for decisive sector relevant exchange and mutual support. “
The chairman of the German-Eastern European Parliamentary Group and a member of parliament, Josip Juratović, from the ranks of the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) headed a delegation of four parliamentarians representing different political parties in the Bundestag. Juratović, who is himself of SEE descent, cordially welcomed his peers from the region and showed strong interest in the area’s energy transition.
“The energy sector is important for the entire region, and the matter should be approached multilaterally. Think about how you can work together to adopt energy policies that can help each individual country, but also the region as a whole, achieve the energy transition, but also the mandatory energy and climate targets. Energy and climate change are above the policy of dissent and politics should not be used as an excuse for a lack of action concerning energy development. It is very important to include young people in these processes, as well as to listen to what citizens have to say to us, decision-makers,” Juratović said.
Snežana R. Petrović, member of the Serbian parliament’s committee on the economy, regional development, trade, tourism and energy
“This study tour, organized by the GIZ Open Regional Fund for South-East Europe for parliamentarians from the region, was beneficial and important. The meetings and discussions with colleagues from Bundestag and Bundesrat have confirmed the significance of consensus among political parties in the process of adopting energy and climate action policies. What made a particularly strong impression on me were the visits to EUREF-Campus and the INNOZ research center, where young scientists are working on innovative, smart, and green solutions and technologies that will help successfully implement the sustainable energy development agenda.”
At the Bundesrat, the MPs had an interesting meeting with Josef Hoffmann, secretary of the committee for the environment, nature conservation, and nuclear safety, who presented the mechanisms of cooperation between the Bundestag and the Bundesrat in the process of energy policy adoption. Hoffmann explained that even though they represent a complex political system, both houses of the parliament manage to agree on the adoption of decisions that are in the state’s interest and are meeting citizens’ wishes and needs. He also announced the adoption of the first law on mobility in the German federal state of Berlin, which will serve as a model for other states and regions in Germany to also regulate the matter in line with development trends.
Photo 1: Delegation of the German-Eastern European Parliamentary Group of the Bundestag in discussion with parliamentarians form the region
Hans-Josef Fell, president of the Energy Watch Group and an internationally renowned energy and climate change advisor, author, and advocate, who served as an MP from 1998 to 2013, made a strong impression on the parliamentarians. Together with Hermann Scheer, he authored the 2000 draft of the Renewable Energy Sources Act, establishing the foundation for the technology developments in photovoltaic, biogas, wind power and geothermal energy in Germany. Fell said that the world faces numerous political challenges such as global warming, the loss of biodiversity, nuclear and environmental disasters, oil wars, poverty, refugees, and economic crises, noting that renewable energy sources can resolve these problems. “In the Balkans, too, renewable energy sources can meet 100% of the energy demand, and this is necessary, feasible, and economically viable,” said Fell.
Maja Maračanin, MP in Macedonian parliament
“The European Union and Germany are very committed to the Western Balkan region, and we should all take advantage of this strong support. The region should also look up to Germany, where everyone is united around the idea of energy transition, and we should reach a consensus on the use of renewable energy sources, particularly wind and solar energy, climate change and environmental protection. This sector can create a large number of green jobs in Macedonia and throughout the Balkans.”
How far along is Germany in energy transition and is everything running smoothly?
The parliamentarian delegation had several meetings with members of the Bundestag as part of the study visit. Even though they come from different political parties, German MPs agree that Germany, as a signatory to the Paris Agreement, must and should continue implementing the energy transition: the plan is to stop using coal and other fossil fuels in energy production by 2030. Germany is also currently debating the shutdown of nuclear power plants, which citizens see as a major threat to safety. As it is important for Germany to have a consensus on these issues, citizens and civil society organizations are intensely involved in these processes. Germany is on the right course concerning the application of renewable energy sources and is particularly developing wind and solar energy facilities. The cost of technology has gone down, and in the solar industry, it is a half of what it was only a few years ago, which is conducive to the renewables development. What still represents a challenge is citizens’ insufficient readiness to have wind farms built in their vicinity, even though they express declarative support for the concept.
Jasna Sekulović, ORF-EE Regional Program Manager
“The aim of this study tour was to provide an opportunity for parliamentarians from the South-East Europe region to get acquainted with work methods of their counterparts from Germany in advocating issues related to sustainable energy use and the harmonization of energy policies with climate protection policies. Also, in devising the agenda of this visit, we were led by the idea that, apart from their counterparts, the parliamentarians should also meet with experts in these fields who would provide them with an expert overview and analysis of Germany’s positive and negative experiences in the process of the so-called Energiewende, i.e. energy transition, which Germany launched a few years ago. I believe the delegation returned with many new ideas, and I hope what they heard during the visit will prove to be useful for their work at their countries’ parliaments”.
Mobility is another important issue for German MPs, one that the guests discussed with Stephan Kuhn, who advocates transport policies at the Bundestag. He said that Germany has achieved a negligible reduction of emissions in the transport sector. “Germany’s target is to reduce CO2 emissions in transport by 40% by 2030, which can be achieved not only through an increased use of electric vehicles and a ban on diesel-fueled vehicles, but also by stepping up the use of other means of transport, such as trains, public transportation, and bicycles. This new paradigm of mobility still needs to be regulated by law, and we are working on it,” said Kuhn, who is a member of the committee on transport and digital infrastructure from the ranks of Greens.
Germany has introduced a new system of incentives for the production of energy from renewable sources. Auctions have replaced feed-in tariffs, which were introduced in 2000. What Ingrid Nestle, a representative of Greens in charge of the energy industry and a member of the committee on economic affairs and energy, sees as a potential problem with this model is that it mostly suits major corporations and investors, which have won most auctions in Germany, while smaller investors and energy cooperatives are losing the competition.
Photo 2: Solar power plant above EUREF Campus’s parking lot where only electric vehicles are parked
The parliamentarians also visited the Agora Energiewende think-tank, which gathers around 30 energy experts and is developing models and recommendations for policies in the area of sustainable energy development and energy transition in Germany and the world. Fabian Joas, senior associate responsible for the EU electricity market and energy policy at Agora, presented ambitions and plans for Germany’s energy development and advised countries in the region to pay attention to aligning new renewable energy capacities with the transmission network capacities when developing RES. In this context, Joas cited the example of Germany, which made the mistake developing a large number of wind farms in the North, where the transmission system was insufficiently developed, underlying that the stability of the electricity system is an imperative of energy sustainability.
Smart city for sustainable future
On the second day of the visit, the GIZ ORF-EE organized a tour of the EUREF-Campus in Berlin. This business and research and development center gathers major world corporations, leaders in the area of smart energy solutions, technologies, and services, without which the smart development of the 21st-century cities cannot be imagined, but also startups and scientific institutions.
Predrag Kožul, member of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s delegation to the Energy Community’s Parliamentary Plenum
“To us, who deal with energy in the parliaments across the region, this was a great opportunity to get acquainted with the best practices in Germany, which is the leader in energy transition in the EU. A shift in energy policy in the Western Balkan countries is necessary, and membership of the Energy Community, whether we want it or not, is making us change the rules of the game. We particularly benefited from the visit to think-tank Agora Energiewende, which is carrying out two projects in our region in cooperation with local experts.”
The parliamentarians learned first-hand about Schneider Electric’s smart grids development project, and they saw a biogas-fired cogeneration facility supplying the campus with energy without CO2 emissions, a test platform for electric mobility, a solar power plant over a lot where only electric vehicles are parked, and a smart autonomous electric bus independently running around the campus, which some even use as a mobile office.
Photo 3: Demonstration of a smart grid development project by Schneider Electric
Of the overall renewable energy produced at the campus, 50% meets the energy needs of the campus itself, while the remainder is sold on the electricity market. The campus’ entire electricity system is a smart grid equipped with smart meters.
Smart solutions and apps developed at the campus can already be seen in the streets of Berlin: the city boasts energy efficient buildings and numerous vehicles from car-sharing programs.
The campus is toured by over 15,000 visitors from all over the world annually.