After a good night's rest to take care of jetlag, it's time for the first full day of presentations. We start over breakfast or Frühstück (literally "early piece"). Frühstück is a bit different than your standard American breakfast. Even the smallest "mutti & vati" gasthaus or pension includes some sort of morning buffet with breads, meats, cheeses, juices and coffee. An upscale hotel like the Westin Grand has a sumptuous spread that also offers fruits, cereals, omelets to order and more. You don't start out the day hungry for lack of opportunity!
In this case, our frühstück features guest speaker Thomas Bareiß. Mr. Bareiß is a member of the Bundestag (parliament), Spokesperson for the Christian Democratic Union party (CDU) and a member of the Government Coalition Task Force on Energy. He also hails from the state of Baden-Württemberg in southwest Germany, which we were to learn is the industrial heartland of the country. Bareiß outlined some of the basic goals of the Energiewende:
1) Reducing the rate of climate change produced by humans*.
2) Reducing imports of energy from outside Germany.
3) Increasing the percentage of renewables as part of the energy mix.
4) Eliminating nuclear as a source for power.
We were also introduced to the concept of the "Feed-in Tariff", which is a key component of the Energiewende. The concept of the Feed-in tariff dates back to the 90s, and is essentially a method of government subsidization, where energy producers are paid for each kilowatt hour based on the cost of production, which provides incentive to transition to renewables. The Feed-in Tariff makes up the difference for the provider between the relatively cheap cost of getting energy from coal and the much more expensive costs of wind and solar. However, while this encourages large providers to use renewable energies, the cost of the Feed-in Tariff is passed on to consumers, which has been a source of concern to the general public in Germany.
After Frühstück, the first of many bus rides. We started with a trip to the Federal Foreign Office, where we heard from Dr Hinrich Thölken (Head of Division, Climate and Environmental Foreign Policy, Sustainable Economy), Klaus Botzet (Head of Division for the United States and Canada) and Stefan Battle (Head of Unit, Foreign Policy Issues of Energy Transition).
Dr. Thölken took the lead in much of the presentation, and is an ardent advocate for increasing reliance on renewables to reduce reliance on the fossil fuels that hasten climate change. However, the marketplace for renewals has been complicated the past couple of years by the surge in US production from Induced Hydraulic Fracturing...or "Fracking". This controversial process uses pressurized liquid to create small fractures in shale rock, which allows access to gas and oil that is unretrievable using conventional drilling methods. Apart from its effect on the marketplace, opponents of fracking argue that it is very damaging to the environment, potentially taints the water supply, and may be responsible for increased seismic activity. Thölken was the first of many to assure us that Fracking is a non-starter in Germany. Something we heard over and over...until our last day. Fracking is very much a reality in the United States, though. And this has caused an overall reduction in the price of fossil fuels making it that much harder for renewables to compete.
From there, it was lunch at the Brasserie am Gendarmenmarkt, where our special guest was Nicola Brüning, BMW's Head of Representative Office in Berlin. Ms. Brüning's presentation was largely about BMW's efforts to increase the market share of electric cars. One of the Energiewende's goals, we were told, is to put one million electric cars on German roads by 2020. While this is perhaps an unrealistic target, automotive manufacturers are stepping up electric car production across the board. One of the biggest problems is recharging. Brüning said that BMW had studied the idea of installing charging units along streets throughout urban areas, but that it was cost-prohibitive. However, electricity already runs along most streets in the form of overhead lights. Why not just tap into that power supply, BMW reasoned? This turned out to be a practical solution, and BMW is now pursuing a plan to install metered charging stations in streetlights. Brüning also answered questions from our group about interfacing with the grid, and storage of power. Electric car batteries potentially represent overnight storage for solar power collected during the day.
All in the study group agreed that Brüning's presentation was one of the most interesting we heard throughout the week...in part due to the content, but also because of her enthusiasm and dynamic personality.
At breakfast, we'd been given a sneak preview of Baden-Württemberg. Now it was time to dive in all the way, with a trip to the Landesvertretung Baden-Württemberg. Imagine if Nevada and each of the other 49 United States had its own embassy in Washington DC. That's the equivalent in Germany. So we were getting the perspective of one of Germany's 16 Länder (states). Our presenter was Peter Friedrich, Minister for Federal, European and International Affairs for the State of Baden-Württemberg.
Baden-Württemberg is the third largest state in Germany, and the most energy intensive. It has little by way of natural resources, but makes up for it with manufacturing, including worldwide concerns like Daimler, Porsche and Bosch. Fourteen percent of Germany's GDP comes from Baden-Württemberg, and the state is officially committed to the concept of the Energiewende...perhaps somewhat surprisingly, since land is a scarce commodity for wind farming, and much of the energy has to be transmitted from the north with a supply system that is currently insufficient. Baden-Württemberg wants to achieve what they refer to as a 50-80-90 plan by 2050. That is, 50% less energy consumption than today, 80% of electricity and heat from renewable resources, resulting in a 90% reduction in greenhouse gases. Lofty goals. However, like the rest of Germany, Baden-Württemberg is actually currently seeing a rise in greenhouse emissions, as coal consumption has grown to make up for decreased reliance of nuclear energy in the short term.
Next on the itinerary...the Energiewende from the perspective of Heavy Industry. This involved another bus drive. And while sightseeing was not on the itinerary, we saw some familiar areas going by, including what has become the commercial/shopping center of Berlin: Potsdamer Platz. When I was here in 2009 with the RIAS-Berlin Kommission, I found time to shoot several "Video Postcards", which I would upload on Youtube from my hotel at night. Our Channel-3 editors would download the video and tighten it up for air back home the next morning. You can find my Potsdamer Platz report at upper left. I'll be including a few more along the way.
Coming from a broadcasting background, all the letters BASF meant to me were audio and video recording tapes. And while BASF has been a pioneer in those areas, it is actually only a very, very small part of their business. BASF (originally Baden Aniline and Soda Factory) is the largest chemical company in the world, with primary manufacturing facilities in Ludwigshafen and corporate offices in Berlin.
Vice President and Head of BASF Berlin Liaison Office Wolfgang Niedermark took the lead in this discussion, with contributions from Energy & Climate Policy Manager Felix Seebach. A representative of the media relations department was also on hand to provide advice and comment if needed. And to that end, Niedermark opened the presentation by noting that everything was on the record; What BASF says behind closed doors is the same as what they say in public.
BASF's relationship with the Energiewende is...complicated. BASF has a history with energy and environment dating back to the 19th century. We were shown a slide of a disastrous 1921 event in the town of Oppau, where 4500 tons of ammonium sulfate and ammonium nitrate fertilizer exploded. Think of the 1988 Henderson Pepcon disaster, except with no prior evacuation. Between 500 and 600 people killed and the factory flattened (see photograph). This was one of the factors which helped shape the BASF concept of "Verbund Sites". We were told that while BASF pursues safety and environmentally sound policies at all of its 360 worldwide production sites, six of them have been designated with the highest ranking of Verbund. BASF says that its Verbund Sites use an integrated approach to manufacturing, research and overall management philosophy, together with the maximum integration of infrastructure, processes, energy and waste management. In the United States, Verbund Sites can be found in Geismar, Louisiana and Freeport, Texas.
BASF seemed ambivalent about the Energiewende, at best. While BASF is fully cooperative with the German Government's goals and accepts the benefits of the Feed-in Tariff for increased reliance on renewable energy sources, they would prefer to let the energy mix be naturally regulated by free marketplace forces. BASF knows that the federal subsidies will be reduced or eliminated somewhere in the future, and prefers to make its own decisions on consumption. BASF is also much too large to be reliant on renewables for the majority of its energy needs. For these reasons, corporate BASF opposes subsidized renewables. This leads to a personal irony for Niedermark, who recently purchased a house that would be an ideal candidate for subsidized solar conversion. However, he is declining the opportunity, as it would run contrary to the corporate message.
By now, it was dinner time, and we convened at Il Punto, where I got the unexpected surprise that one of the guests this evening was none other than Rainer Hasters, Executive Director of the RIAS-Berlin Kommission. I first met Rainer ten years ago in Las Vegas at the National Association of Broadcasters convention, a month after I had been selected as a Fellow for the program. Since then I have been on two RIAS fellowships, and have met up with Rainer at many other RIAS events...most recently in Washington DC just two months ago. It's always a pleasure to see him.
The main guests were Green Party National Chairman Cem Özdemir and Ecologic Institute Director R. Andreas Kraemer. Unlike the United States, where the Green Party is considered a fringe element of the left wing, in Germany, the Greens (Die Grünen) are mainstream, and have considerable sway in the national political scene. Özdemir is sometimes referred to as "the German Obama" since he is the first minority (Turkish-born) to attain this high a position in German politics. He is known for his wit and charisma. Özdemir is in ardent supporter of the Energiewende. However, he recognizes the strength of the coal industry, and the challenge of supplanting coal as the primary source of energy in Germany. Right now, Germany is up to about 25% renewable energy. Özdemir says that the point of no return is 50%. R. Andreas Kraemer seemed to have a more cautious, pragmatic approach. A couple of times he politely disagreed with Özdemir's aggressive stance--always with a bit of a twinkle in his eye. Kraemer wants to introduce environmentally friendly policies into trade and international relations...but to do so slowly. Both men seemed very comfortable with the world of politics.
It was a lot to ponder for one day. The following day promised to be just as challenging. Back to the Westin Grand.
* Unlike the United States, where the topic is debated with a split largely along party lines, there is no debate in Germany: Global Warming is real and hastened by release of greenhouse gases from human activity. There are disagreements about how to respond, but global warming itself is considered a fact, regardless of political leaning.