Blog: A quint-Essen-tially German approach to energy?

No matter what country you’re in, energy is and always will be big business. But for Germans when it comes to energy, they REALLY mean business. That’s massively apparent when […]

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By Vicky Ellis

No matter what country you’re in, energy is and always will be big business. But for Germans when it comes to energy, they REALLY mean business.

That’s massively apparent when it comes to the huge trade fairs like eWorld, which I flew back from this week. The largest energy fair in Europe, it’s held in Essen, in the Ruhr region of west Germany. The conference centre sprawls next to a tall, glossy-windowed building owned by – who else? – German powerhouse E.ON. Their glowing red logo beams down from the top of an expensive looking tower, visible from many streets around Essen.

Everywhere in the conference halls, wealth shines out in an attempt to attract more wealth – Mac computers on minimal stands modelled on Apple stores, perfectly arranged giant lilies on clean table tops, the chunky parked up Hummer advertising a green gas firm.

Traditionally, that wealth has stemmed from oil and gas – but a change in direction from Germany’s government could be about to signal a new well of prosperity.

A swinging u-turn away from nuclear power after Japan’s Fukushima disaster, on top of the ‘Energiewende’ or energy revolution policy, sees the great German ship turn so its sails can catch the wind (as well as tidal and solar of course). That’s not just energy providers.

Sniffing out a story among all the gleaming stands seething with suits and specs, I met some young men at a two-year-old trading company furiously working the phones and the opportunity to net more clients. One thing that’s really booming in Germany, one of them told me, is green credits.

A bit like emissions certificates, they can be bought and sold – but unlike the EU Emissions Trading Scheme which is compulsory, these green credits are voluntary. Firms are apparently buying them mainly for the kudos.

While they’re “not expensive”, in fact really quite cheap (another similarity with the EU carbon allowances which are languishing at a price of around 4 euros) the trader told me there is real demand for them.

I suppose that makes sense for a country with such a strong environmental ethos, its people have decided to ditch nuclear power.

Not only that but as a result of the Energiewende, with Germany’s target to have 80% of energy from renewables, communities around the country have been flocking to generate their own green energy since the 90s, as Bibi van der See mentions in The Ecologist this week. She writes that the Germans are trying to do things with electricity “that no one else has dared to” while “the world’s policy makers are watching closely”.

It seems the nation which arguably has the biggest claim to the title “most efficient” is about to systematically make going green pay – with a quint-Essen-tially German sense of purpose.