Discussion Paper Leopoldina: "Politics gets stuck in the small things"

Politicians are arguing about the details of the energy transition. Researchers at the Leopoldina, like Veronika Grimm, are calling for technologies to be developed and made available as quickly as possible – across Europe.

tagesschau.de: Ms. Grimm, the discussion paper should actually be entitled “Don’t miss the critical moment”, which you formulated together with other scientists, will appear a little later. But now you released it earlier – why?

Veronica Grimm: We thought that at the moment we were running out of time to actually achieve the climate protection goals. At the same time, one has the feeling that politics is very much caught up in the small things. The details of the energy transition are being disputed. There is talk of also excluding certain solution options. I think that should make us think. It’s about developing technologies quickly, making them available and, above all, cooperating across Europe. And we wanted to make this point, also now at the cabinet meeting in Meseberg.

To person

Veronika Grimm is a German economist and has held the chair for economics, especially economic theory, at the Friedrich-Alexander University of Erlangen-Nuremberg since 2008. In 2020 she was appointed to the Council of Economic Experts, the group of so-called economic experts.

Six points for an energy transition

tagesschau.de: Scientists from various disciplines have worked out six points for this paper. Let’s take a closer look: What are the most important points?

Grim: We still have big plans for climate protection. The phase is now starting in which there will also be a comprehensive structural change, where many things have to be thought differently, set up differently as part of the conversion to climate-neutral production processes, for example in industry. And you can already see that: there are many companies that, in view of the energy crisis, are thinking about how business models can be managed in the future. The fact is that pressure is currently building up again. The Russian attack on Ukraine is changing the geopolitical environment very significantly, which will once again mean that dependencies will have to be questioned and that it will also become a little more difficult to actually implement things as you had imagined.

Veronika Grimm, University of Erlangen-Nuremberg, on the Leopoldina’s discussion paper on the energy transition

tagesschau24 3:30 p.m., 6.3.2023

Global hydrogen trade

tagesschau.de: Let’s take a closer look at the topic of hydrogen. What ideas are there in the paper?

Grim: The hydrogen strategy of the federal government is currently being revised. First of all, we have already seen in the coalition agreement that our own capacities for the production of green hydrogen have been scaled up, i.e. ten gigawatts of electrolysis capacities are planned in Germany. This can be used to produce around 30 hours of hydrogen per year. But we also need green hydrogen. We need more than we can possibly produce ourselves in 2030. And we have to import that.

In order to initiate this global trade, government action is certainly required to initiate large-scale projects. This requires long-term procurement contracts, possibly with state guarantees, and the construction of infrastructure, ships, port facilities and, of course, pipelines. And you have to think very carefully about not getting into new dependencies again in the course of this change in energy trading worldwide. So you should make sure that you sound out the countries from which you can import and that you don’t just focus on the cheapest ones that can now offer it at the cheapest price.

Gas-fired power plants also continue to play a role

tagesschau.de: Another point is the gas power plants, which are to be further strengthened – that’s what the paper says. What do you mean with that?

Grim: If we get out of nuclear energy in April and also out of coal by 2030, as laid down in the coalition agreement – then we’ll have to build new capacities in gas-fired power plants very quickly. It has to be considered where they can be located, how are they connected and how do we ensure that these gas-fired power plants cannot be operated permanently with gas. It should then be possible to convert these to hydrogen and renewable energy sources in the medium term. After all, we want to have a climate-neutral power generation system by 2035. And that means that these gas-fired power plants that fill the gaps, i.e. if the fluctuating renewables are not available, then we need power plants that can be let in to take over this job and then generate the electricity. And so that the electricity system is climate-neutral, these gas-fired power plants must be operated with climate-neutral energy sources.

The energy transition must be accepted in society

tagesschau.de: How do you want to bring these complicated and difficult topics into society as a discourse? After all, acceptance also plays a role, doesn’t it?

Grim: It’s not just a question of whether anything would be technically possible if there were enough raw materials and enough skilled workers available, it’s also a question of whether it can also be implemented in our society with the governance that we have given ourselves and in federalism is. And for that we need a great many disciplines on board that examine different aspects. I think we have to realize that in the current world, in which the geopolitical situation is changing dramatically, we also have to think about dependencies at all levels, in the supply chain. We have to reduce these dependencies bit by bit and keep options open if these dependencies get on our feet and certain critical raw materials are not available due to sanctions, for example.

If we pursue our climate protection, if we pursue our energy transition, we still have to act in such a way that we are seen internationally as a role model, that is, that we prove that climate protection and prosperity can be combined in one society. And that always involves a lot of disciplines. People have to follow the path, there has to be acceptance and things have to be realizable in our basic democratic order.

The interview was conducted by Anja Martini, science editor of tagesschau. It has been edited and abridged for the written version.

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