In her first report, Erin explains what she’s seen so far on her trip, and how Germany’s leadership in clean energy might inform what we’re doing here in the Midwest.
Why are you visiting Germany?
I was awarded a policy fellowship through the American Council on Germany (ACG), an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit organization which promotes dialogue among leaders from business, government, and the media in the United States and Europe. The ACG strengthens transatlantic understanding and coordinates policy initiatives on key issues.
Germany is recognized as a world leader in renewable energy deployment, especially renewable energy projects built on customers’ homes and businesses. Nearly 30 percent of its electricity consumption is met by renewable energy technologies, and the country has committed to phasing out its nuclear power plants by 2022.
Minnesota and the Midwest have tremendous renewable energy and energy efficiency potential. Minnesota utilities largely report that they are on track to meet policy targets, and that renewable energy has helped stabilize or even put some downward pressure on rates while creating thousands of jobs in Minnesota.
As Minnesota looks to build on this success by increasing our renewable electricity standard, there are important considerations to ensure that needed new infrastructure is in place to strengthen the local and bulk power grids, make sure electricity market structures reward the ability of resources to meet quickly changing customer demand and accommodate variable energy resources like wind and solar, and allow a workable utility business model as we make the transition. I hope to better understand Germany’s experience to evaluate and apply some of those insights and lessons to the upper Midwest.
What are two of the energy industry sites have you visited so far, and what is their significance?
I have already met with a range of officials from renewable industry groups, a utility, an academic, a federal government official, nongovernmental organizations, a grid operator, and two members of the German Bundestag (Parliament). Currently, the German law governing its famous “feed-in tariff,” a system of payments to renewable energy operators, is under revision at the Parliament.
At the same time, there is pressure from the European Union to harmonize renewable energy policies and expand energy markets between member states. German policy makers are working to balance these sometimes competing perspectives.
What are some differences and similarities that you have noticed between how Germans and Minnesotans manage and use their electricity?
Electricity is very expensive in Germany. Air conditioning is not as widely available as in the United States. (It’s about 90° today in Augsburg, Germany, so I’ve been particularly aware of that!) Additionally, I’ve noticed that most hotels have motion-sensitive lights that activate when someone enters the room.
However, similar to Minnesota, retail customers are largely shielded from price changes in the wholesale electricity market. This prevents time-sensitive price signals from changing behavior; for example, reducing energy consumption during times of high energy use (which is often more expensive.)
Looking forward, what are a few upcoming stops on your trip?
This week, I will meet with TenneT, one of Germany’s four transmission grid operators. TenneT has a good reputation for engaging with stakeholders regarding new transmission projects; additionally, their service area runs from northern Germany (where the country’s best on and offshore wind resources are) to the south (where there is more demand, more nuclear generation, and the most installed solar in the country), which may offer interesting possibilities for smoothing variations between wind and solar generation.
I will also be meeting with a distributed grid operator, Netze BW, to learn more about the challenges they face in integrating high deployments of distributed solar projects. While Germany has only four transmission operators, there are over 900 distributed grid operators; this number is growing as cities increasingly elect to municipalize the electricity system.
An academic at the University of Ulm, Germany, will help me understand Ulm’s success in deploying solar and some of the benefits and challenges seen as a result. Ulm is the sister city to New Ulm, Minnesota, and is consistently a top performer in Germany’s Solar Bundesliega. “Bundesliga” is the term for Germany’s professional soccer league; the Solar Bundesliga seeks to capture this spirit of competition and local pride for cities to compete to have the most solar capacity installed per capita. Both Ulm and New Ulm have municipal utilities serving their citizens. I am interested in understanding how Ulm came to be a leader in installed solar capacity, and whether there might be opportunities to exchange ideas to further solar deployment in New Ulm, Minnesota.