PEC’s Lindsay Baxter Sends a Postcard From Germany

*Lindsay Baxter, PEC Program Manager for Energy & Climate, recaps her first week studying energy policy in Germany as part of her three-week McCloy Fellowship in Environmental Policy through the American Council on Germany.*

It’s hard to believe that the first week of my McCloy Fellowship in Environmental Policy through the American Council on Germany is already complete. And what a week it’s been! I landed in Berlin early last Saturday morning and had the weekend to explore, take a day trip to nearby Wittenburg, and, perhaps most importantly, adjust to the time difference.

Lindsay Baxter
Lindsay Baxter

Monday the real work began. So far I’ve had meetings with diverse representatives of the energy sector in Germany, including trade associations such as the Solar Energy Association and the Wind Energy Association, representatives of different areas of the Federal government from the state department and from the Green Party, transmission system operator 50Hertz, think-tank Agora Energiewende, major corporation Siemens, the European Energy Exchange in Leipzig, and more.

Leipzig bike photo
There are tons of bicycle infrastructure in the German cities Baxter has visited, such as this in Leipzig.

While some key themes are already beginning to emerge, I think it’s important to first explain a little background about the goals of my research. Comparative studies, at the most basic level, compare at least two separate systems in order to learn more about one or both. While there are certainly many similarities between Germany and the U.S., there are also significant differences between the cultures, economies, and governments. The purpose of my research is not to identify specific policies or programs used in Germany and suggest that they could be applied in whole in Pennsylvania. Rather, I’m speaking to diverse individuals one-on-one to get a sense of what’s worked well, what’s been a challenge, where have business opportunities arisen, what have been unintended consequences, and so on.

Germany’s energiewende, or energy transition, has set a goal of sourcing 80-95 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2050. While by all accounts the country is on track to meet or exceed its interim 2030 goals for renewable energy, it will likely not meet its carbon reduction goals because the balance of electricity is resulting from dirty lignite plants.

Another unintended consequence is that, while wholesale electricity prices have dropped dramatically due to the influx of wind and solar (i.e. electricity with no fuel costs), the average homeowner and small business have experienced huge increases in electricity prices. These increases are due in large part to the very successful feed-in-tariff which compensates renewable energy producers and is paid through a surcharge on all other electricity users. Because the FIT was so high, the growth of renewables was greater than anticipated. (A recent law has amended the FIT in response.)

Leipzig transit photo
German cities have excellent transportation infrastructure, like the tram pictured here in Leipzig.

And yet, even with these challenges, a recent poll showed over 80 percent of German citizens still support the energiewende. Recognizing the ongoing costs and challenges (the need for new transmission lines, the difficulty of implementing energy efficiency, etc.), there is still great pride in the successes that have been achieved. Because Germany went first, there is an opportunity for us to learn from both their successes and challenges.

As an electricity exporter, with access to literally every energy source (wind, solar, hydro, natural gas, coal, and nuclear), making strides to innovate and decarbonize our energy system could have far-reaching impacts. As we embark on an energy transition in Pennsylvania, my hope is that what I’ve learned in Germany can be helpful to our work in the state. And to that end, if there are specific questions or feedback you’d like to share that could inform my final two weeks of research, please send me an email!

What’s next? I will spend the weekend in Dresden, with meetings there spanning the first half of the week. Then, after spending Wednesday and Thursday in Munich, I will head to Cologne for the weekend and spend my final week in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia in Cologne, Dusseldorf, and Essen. After a few days of personal travel, I will return to work at PEC on Nov. 17 and hope to complete a final report from my research this winter.

Until next week, auf wiedersehen!

*Check back in next Monday as Lindsay Baxter, PEC Program Manager for Energy & Climate, sends another postcard highlighting her work in Germany.