Back to the Future (in Her Majesty's footsteps)

Source: M. (Maroš) Sefčovič i, published on Friday, July 3 2015.

Last time I visited Leipzig was back the 80s when I was a young athlete participating in the Eastern Bloc's 'Spartakiad' sports games; my team had even won a few medals which we brought back to Czechoslovakia. This time, I visited the city as part of the Energy Union Tour. Neither the Eastern bloc nor Czechoslovakia still exists today but my team still brought back some great insight on the future of energy innovation.

Visiting Germany, I always feel a bit thrown into the future, like Marty McFly from the American 80s classic. I am always astonished by the futuristic technologies, especially when it comes to energy efficiency, storage, and renewables. Accompanied by Saxony State Secretary for the Environment and Agriculture Dr. Herbert Wolff, and Leipzig's Mayor Burkhard Jung, I was presented with BMW's zero-emissions concept for electric cars, made of extremely light material (which I could lift myself without too much effort). Supported by the European Investment Bank, this brand-new factory manufactures so quietly that its employees can actually work out in the gym, right below the machines. So the cars from 'Back to the Future' were able to fly, but I doubt that they were that energy efficient!

Apart for being a front-runner when it comes to its innovation in energy efficiency and renewables, Germany is also very ambitious when it comes to interconnecting its electricity grids to its neighbouring countries (in what some have come to call the mini Energy Union). A very interesting aspect of the increasing cross-border flow of energy is the way in which energy and emission allowances can now be traded. I therefore visited the European Energy Exchange, also in Leipzig, which looks a lot like a stock exchange, allowing bidders to buy and sell the day before the energy is consumed. That is also where they can trade with their CO2 emission allowances. Why is this important? Because turning our energy into a tradable commodity allows us to become more efficient - sending the energy from where it is abundant to where it is needed (rather than producing and polluting more). It also allows us, as society, to limit the amount of CO2 emissions we are willing to tolerate.

Green innovation, energy efficiency, and the internal energy market are all important dimensions of the Energy Union or what the locals here call 'Energiewende'. But it goes further, also covering integration of renewables and diversification of energy sources to achieve higher energy security. That is why it was important for me to take stock of where Germany stands when it comes to its energy transformation and explain the additional benefits it can see with the implementation of the Energy Union. I therefore held meetings with the German government and the Bundestag, with industrialists and civil society, and last but not least - with students of Berlin's Technical University.

Overall, I felt there was strong political will and public support for both the 'Energiewende' and the Energy Union. With regards to the former, I caught up on the latest debates around the trade-offs, challenges and difficulties, like the missing high-voltages lines connecting the north and south of Germany or the national climate levy. As for the Energy Union, my discussions covered a wide range of topics; from the external aspects of our supply to our internal energy market and the upcoming reform in our Emissions Trading System (ETS). I was asked about the role of social partners as well as local authorities - both of which I perceive as a key part of the solution. As always, the most intriguing and refreshing remarks came from students who stayed late on campus for our lively debate (which I very much appreciated, considering I had to "compete" with Berlin's endless nightlife options…).

If you've read this far, you're probably wondering why this post's title mentions royalty. Well, it turns out that Her Majesty Queen Elisabeth II visited Berlin on the same day. With a rather similar itinerary, she kept a few minutes ahead of me along our stops (like the chancellery and the Technical University) so that everywhere I went they were just rolling up the red carpet… And back to Marty McFly, isn't it symbolic that when travelling into the future, he landed in the year of 2015, right when the EU announced its Energy Union strategy?