We mustn’t stand in our own way when it comes to climate protection

The author

Dr. Gunther Kegel is President of the ZVEI – Central Association of the Electrical and Electronics Industry – and CEO of Pepperl + Fuchs, a leading manufacturer of industrial automation products.

(Photo: obs, Montage)

Innovation protects the climate. The work program of the coming federal government on climate protection can be summed up in just three words. Now that the current government has increased the climate targets again following the intervention of the Federal Constitutional Court, the next four years must finally be about taking concrete measures to combat climate-damaging CO2 emissions more consistently.

That is also sorely needed. Because in 2021 Germany is expected to miss its climate targets in the key sectors of mobility, buildings and industry. We mainly “owe” Corona that it was just enough for 2020 in total. But we can and want to do without this “ally”.

Our confidence can be fueled to a large extent by the innovative capacity of our industry. Much of the technology we need to drastically reduce emissions of climate-damaging gases is already available. And I am sure: We are still a long way from seeing the end of our inventiveness and we can also rely on leap innovations.

Effective climate protection requires the right political framework that, on the one hand, specifically promotes innovation and, on the other hand, gives companies the opportunity to integrate climate protection profitably into their business models. Or, to put it briefly: who productively puts the forces of the economy at the service of ecology.

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Unfortunately, we are still a long way from that. You also need a goal that makes it clear where the “journey” is going. For our branch, the electrical and digital industry, one thing is clear: the focus is on electrification and digitization. Both processes will accelerate and converge more and more. But one after the other.

The expansion path must become an expressway

The next federal government is facing the great task of leading the industrial nation of Germany into a digital and climate-friendly future. For the ZVEI, the key to solving this task lies in the all-electric society. It will be characterized by electricity as the primary energy source, generated locally from renewable sources, as well as the intelligent coupling of all climate-relevant sectors.

For the new federal government this means: setting the course for the entire legislative period in the first 100 days. This means resolutely expanding the previous “expansion path” for renewables into an “expressway”. Plus 300, better 400 percent shouldn’t be too tightly calculated. Because the demand for electricity will increase significantly as a result of electrification and we want to get out of fossil fuels and electricity from nuclear energy is not a majority in Germany.

In the meantime, the Federal Ministry of Economics has also admitted: Electricity consumption in Germany will increase more rapidly than assumed, the estimate for the year 2030 has been revised upwards from 580 to 655 terawatt hours. Even this forecast is likely to remain well below actual demand.

What can be deduced from this?

  1. Firstly, we need massive investments in the nationwide expansion of renewable energy sources, which go hand in hand with significantly faster implementation. In Germany, every project, large and small, is popularly debated. That is of course fine in a democracy. Nonetheless, it must be possible to bring such debates to a conclusion within the required time frame.

    In concrete terms, this means: We have to accelerate our planning and approval processes. We will no longer be able to afford hanging parts such as the expansion of the route or the expansion of wind energy with the ambitious climate targets. For comparison: while a good 1,700 wind turbines were installed in 2017, there were only 420 in 2020. We definitely have space for renewable systems.

    According to the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems, for example, today we can install photovoltaics with a total output of 2800 gigawatts without any further soil sealing. In 2020 there were just 54 gigawatts of capacity.

  2. At the same time, electrification must be consistently promoted. This means: The switch from fossil fuels to electricity and increasingly low-carbon electricity must also become financially more attractive.

    The electricity price should be down, the EEG surcharge abolished, and the electricity tax should be based on the CO2 content, so that there is no tax at all for CO2-free electricity. The CO2 prices, on the other hand, have to rise increasingly market-driven and across the EU – ideally even worldwide. In doing so, we are also giving the ecological turnaround in buildings and traffic a boost.

    A third of all energy-related CO2 emissions in Germany are still caused by the building sector, and we are still lagging behind when it comes to switching to electromobility. The expansion of the charging infrastructure – we demand one million charging points by 2030 – and other incentives for energy-efficient building renovation must now be tackled together.

    Why not put together a package that promotes decentralized energy generation as a whole? The comprehensive equipping of (residential) buildings with photovoltaic systems, heat pumps and storage should be systematically supported by the charging station.

  3. It is important to invest more decisively than ever in digitization in order to build a climate-friendly electricity system. This is the only way we can use renewable electricity efficiently and across sectors and promote grid expansion in the right places. Smart metering, i.e. intelligent meters, is an important component.

    Germany and all of Europe must no longer stand in their own way when it comes to digitization. The smooth, cross-border exchange of data – for example between companies, organizations and institutions – is essential for this. We need standards for shared data usage – as already laid out in the Gaia-X data infrastructure project. This is the only way that new technologies such as artificial intelligence can develop their full potential, and that is the only way to create data-driven business models.

    In order to achieve this, the excessive German regulatory density in the use of data must be thinned out so that, for example, anonymized data can be used better in the future.

These points must be at the top of the agenda of the next federal government. The first 100 days will be crucial and will show the direction. We are therefore calling for a comprehensive package of measures that contains a concrete roadmap – a binding “climate goals work program” that is resolutely implemented.

Discussions such as the need for a climate protection ministry are unnecessary. After the election, we shouldn’t debate in which ministry climate protection is “best placed”. Rather, we should agree on which measures can best be used to achieve the climate goals. Gladly in just three words: electric and digital.

The author: Dr. Gunther Kegel is President of the ZVEI – Central Association of the Electrical and Electronics Industry – and CEO of Pepperl + Fuchs, a leading manufacturer of industrial automation products.

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