Berlin Energy Transition Dialogue sees great potential for renewables

Renewables are future-proof: according to a new study, the world’s need for electricity could be met almost entirely by wind and solar energy by 2050.

Two men shaking hands on top of a wind generator© Adobe Stock/sidorovstock

The 5th Berlin Energy Transition Dialogue (BETD) international conference, which was held on 9 and 10 April, focused on the opportunities and challenges facing the global energy transition. International attendance was at a new record level, reflecting the interest in what is the decisive phase of the energy transition. At the end of the conference, everyone agreed that the energy transition will only be successful if everyone seeks to achieve the same thing.

In his opening speech, Federal Minister for Economic Affairs and Energy Peter Altmaier highlighted the need for adopting an international approach to the energy transition. Addressing some 2,000 participants from 90 countries, including 50 official delegations from all over the world, Mr Altmaier said: "Any successful energy transition must be based on a global and holistic approach" and went on to explain that it is also important to factor in the social and economic dimension. For this to be possible, he said, close international cooperation is important.

Germany’s Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, who opened the conference together with Mr Altmaier, pointed out that the energy transition is about more than merely swapping fossil fuels for renewables: "It [the energy transition] also changes some political fundamentals. The use of renewables can enable countries to improve energy security and to pursue their own strategic and political interests more independently", said Foreign Minister Heiko Maas.

Over two days, participants engaged in in-depth discussions about the geopolitical developments resulting from the energy transition and about how to bring it to all sectors in a way that is successful and affordable for all.

Global issues, pioneering answers

Answers to these pressing questions can be found in a study entitled Global Energy Transformation: A Roadmap to 2050, which was presented to the public in the run-up to the conference. It shows how our future could be designed in a way that prevents further global warming and highlights the true potential of renewables. "They are the most effective available means to reverse the trend of rising carbon emissions", said the new Director-General of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) Francesco La Camera. According to the study, wind and solar energy alone could provide the bulk of the world’s electricity (86%) in 2050 – provided that the world makes a clear move towards green electricity now.

Study: Swift energy transition also makes good economic sense

IRENA is convinced that a swift energy transition makes good economic sense. They estimate that it would save the global economy USD 160 trillion, which would otherwise have to be spent on healthcare, climate adjustment and energy subsidies. Francesco La Camera said in his speech that every dollar spent on the energy transition will pay off up to sevenfold. He said that transforming the energy system will generate growth, jobs and prosperity. Some 10 million people in the world already owe their jobs to renewables. In Germany, this figure adds up to almost 350,000.

A consistent focus on green electricity, says the study, is necessary if we are to drastically reduce global carbon emissions whilst boosting economic growth. Electricity from renewables must become the world’s number-one source of energy. A major factor in achieving this is greater use of electric mobility (an estimated 1 billion electric vehicles by 2050); others include greater use of electricity for heating and for generating green hydrogen (power to gas). The technologies underpinning this are "safe, reliable, low-cost and available", said Mr La Camera.

International Energy Agency calls for 'consistent action'

Commenting on the energy data for 2018, Fatih Birol, Director of the International Energy Agency (IEA) pointed out that there is still a major gap between political announcements and real developments in the energy sector. Addressing the political representatives in the audience, Mr Birol called for more consistent action. He said that 70% of the world’s growing demand for energy is still met by installations using fossil fuels, causing global carbon emissions to grow last year. "The world in 2050 will depend on the energy decisions we take today", said Francesco La Camera. IRENA and IEA want to join forces to ensure that the global energy transition can gain traction. At the conference, the two organisations signed an MoU on their future cooperation.

New energy partnerships with Chile and Jordan

Minister Altmaier signed two new bilateral energy partnerships with Chile and the Kingdom of Jordan. The German government engages in this kind of partnership in order to promote the global uptake of renewable energy and of efficient energy technology. These partnerships are an important tool for ensuring permanent dialogue on political and economic issues related to the energy transition.

So far, Germany has formed 20 energy partnerships with countries including Brazil, China, India, Mexico, South Africa and with north African countries including Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia. Chile and Jordan have major potential for PV and other renewables, due to their geographical location. Jordan wants to modernise and digitise its energy sector so as to be able to tap this potential. Germany and Chile are planning to engage in closer cooperation on renewables and energy efficiency.

SET Award Innovative ideas for the energy transition and for climate change mitigation

Much of the conference time was dedicated to dialogue on best practices and new solutions. Five excellent examples of innovative and effective business models centring on the energy transition and climate change mitigation were awarded with the 2019 Start Up Energy Transition (SET) Award presented by the German Energy Agency (DENA) at the BETD on 9 April. SET is a global initiative that brings together startups with other companies and investors. Some 450 companies from 80 countries submitted their entries, including Berlin-based company Enapter GmbH. This company was awarded the prize for 'low-emission energy generation' for its highly-efficient hydrogen generators which use electrolysis to ensure a safe and flexible production of hydrogen. This hydrogen can be used for many different purposes, including for energy storage, as a fuel, or for heating. The technology is particularly useful for regions that cannot be electrified directly. The goal here is to make hydrogen cheaper than natural gas. Among the winners of the SET awards, there were also companies from Australia, Sweden and Uganda.

The BETD conference was hosted by the Federal Government on the premises of the Federal Foreign Office. It was co-organised by the Federal Association for Renewable Energy (BEE), the Federal Solar Industry Association (BSW-Solar), the German Energy Agency (DENA), and consultancy firm eclareon.