when it comes to significant global issues, few topics spark as much emotional discussion as the transition to renewable energy. The economic threats are continuously compared and contrasted with potential environmental benefits, but estimates of the required investment and the costs involved depend largely on which protagonist you ask. And there are major differences in their estimates. Despite this, there seems to be general consensus in Germany that the transition to alternative energy is a done deal in political terms, even if no one wants electricity pylons, windmills, and biogas plants in their backyard. Most projects that have already been planned quickly reveal prevading ambivalence.
In the fall of 2010, the German government tabled its energy concept, complete with goals and program for the new era of renewable energy. Its schedule runs until the middle of the century, with demands for a consistent drop in energy consumption in industry, transportation, and construction, and a stipulation that 60% of energy come from renewable sources. Taking this ambitious route will require active participation by everyone in Germany. And this means convincing people of the benefits. We need a concerted “energy and culture transformation.” Resolving doubt and involving people who can take more responsibility and make more decisions will just be some of the huge challenges we will face.
It is now more important than ever to implement ideas and innovative projects that will act as a beacon for defining the benchmark for future standards. The Stuttgart-based Steinbeis Transfer Center for Energy, Building and Solar Engineering (EGS) has been developing future-oriented energy concepts for buildings and city districts for over 20 years. After working on the first solar housing projects in Friedrichshafen and Neckarsulm in the 1990s, both of which used long-term thermal storage systems, the center has been involved in countless sustainable office complexes and commercial buildings. It is currently developing carbon neutral housing projects in line with energy transition goals and the EU objectives for 2050.
It is quite possible that a building or housing complex that can cover its own energy requirements through exclusively renewable sources will turn out to be the elusive perpetual motion machine – or simply unaffordable. The main challenge is how to store the energy and reconcile shifting solar energy supplies and energy demands at different times of the day or year. The electricity grids and the networks supplying gas and heating are currently being linked with large energy storage systems – in combination with “Power-to-Gas” and “Power-to-Heat” concepts – to facilitate the widespread introduction of the EnergiePLUS standard. Given the existing infrastructure in Germany, buildings or housing complexes that are self-sufficient in energy terms are, however, unlikely to be the way forward for expanding the renewable energy supply. The EGS transfer center has worked on and organized the co-development of the first EnergiePLUS buildings to be constructed in Germany. It has also monitored the first years of operation. Pilot plans to convert the first urban housing estates are already in place and these should set new standards for sustainable cities by the year 2020. Funding programs such as the BMVBS “Efficiency House Plus” scheme and the Federal Ministry of Economics and Technology’s “Eneff City” initiative will help research and development move forward with the EnergiePLUS standard, and this will accelerate the innovation cycle and market introduction in Germany.
We still have nearly 35 years to achieve the environmental protection goals set by the German government. A particular responsibility lies with architects and city planners, who could meet expectations by delivering ambitious, future-proof concepts. But what’s also needed now is people with the can-do willingness to take risks and real estate developers with drive and commitment.
This edition of TRANSFER magazine provides insights into the challenges of this technology field and I hope you find it an enjoyable read!
Yours Prof. Dr.-Ing. M. Norbert Fisch