Editor’s note: Udo Wichert is the former
CEO of STEAG Fernwärme GmbH and a
former president of AGFW, the German
Energy Efficiency Association for heating,
cooling and combined heat and power. He
was a panelist at the IDEA 2018 annual
conference and trade show in Vancouver,
where he shared some of his insights with
District Energy about the Energiewende
(energy transition) in Germany.
QIn 2010, the German govern- ment formally adopted a plan
to reduce the country’s greenhouse
gas emissions by transitioning to an
environmentally sound, sustainable
and affordable low-carbon economy.
Known as the “Energiewende”(energy
transition), the plan calls for the phasing out of Germany’s nuclear reactors,
the reduction of fossil fuel use and the
large-scale development of renewable
energy sources such as wind, photovoltaics and hydroelectricity. Increasing energy efficiency is also a major
objective. However, the Energiewende
focuses heavily on decarbonizing the
electric grid while largely ignoring the
opportunities to reduce the carbon
emissions associated with the heating
of buildings. Can you provide an update
on the Energiewende today?
Udo Wichert: I think the Energiewende is in a critical situation now
because the political decisions have concentrated on electricity and not on the
other sectors such as buildings (heating,
cooling, hot water) and transportation.
Only 20 percent of the German prime
energy consumption is electricity, and
yet German politics still focuses on
this sector. I think this is a great prob-
lem because district energy with CHP
is the bridge between electricity and
the heating sector.
There were a few good acts of
legislation in the past. For example,
we had – and still have – legislation to
build up new CHP plants and to sup-
port existing CHPs. In Germany, CHP
plants are not part of the electricity
market; they are part of the heating
market. But the German Bundestag
made it possible for these CHP plants
to get financial benefits similar to
what an electric utility would receive.
Second, if a district heating company
acquired new customers and had to
build new pipes to connect those cus-
tomers, the company could get about
20 percent of its investment costs as
a subsidy. This regulation is very help-
ful for district heating companies.
Here, as everywhere, district
heating has competitors like gas
boilers, oil boilers, electric heat and
especially heat pumps for individual
buildings, which were covered by another law. So we have a situation in
Germany with two political goals: We
will expand CHP and district heating,
and we will expand electricity using
renewables. These two somehow
clash, and the legal. situation is still
QWhy do you think the focus was only on electricity?
UW: It's largely a political issue. Many politicians did not like these big electric utilities, which burned a lot of hard
coal and lignite, especially the German
lignite, which has the worst CO2 emissions. And the German chancellor, Mrs.
Merkel, decided in 2011 – three days
after the Fukushima nuclear disaster –
that we would shut down all the nuclear plants by 2022. This decision was
backed with strong support in the German Parliament, and it was very popular
with the people. However, nuclear power
plants have no CO2 emissions, a fact that
is often overlooked.
QThere are many people who think we should shut down all nuclear
plants and never build another one.
UW: Yes, and that includes Chan-
cellor Merkel. But now we have a new
enemy. It's not the nuclear power plants;
it is plants burning fossil fuels. To many
people, the answer seems very simple:
Shut down all the plants that use fossil
fuels. Start by closing the plants that use
lignite coal, then hard coal, then natural
gas and oil. Then in 2050 we will have
100 percent renewable electricity gener-
ation in Germany and in Europe. This is a
great aim, and you will find this in all po-
litical decisions of the parliament and in
coalition contracts. And so it’s very tricky.
CHP as a basis for district heating energy
is under big pressure at the moment.
On the one hand, we have heat
pumps powered by green electricity. On
the other, we have liberalized the heating market, with natural gas and lique-
Update on Germany’s
Q&A with Udo Wichert
Photo Coast Mountain Photography.