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The cuckoo is sure to die

Ove Petersen and Elon Musk are experiencing very similar problems at the moment. The former is a project developer at GP Joule who wants to build wind farms and solar plants in Germany to supply the country with renewable energy, while the American wants to build electric cars in Brandenburg. On the other side are environmentalists who want to save the cuckoo in Petersen’s case and pine trees from being felled in the case of Musk.

“I hope for Elon Musk’s sake, and for Germany and the automotive industry, that they don’t find any red kites in the forest,” jokes Petersen. However, there’s more than a grain of truth in his joke. He has already had countless discussions with action groups against wind farms and solar parks. “But we’ve convinced many of them and over 95% of our projects have then been successful,” says the energy pioneer.

The cuckoo is currently the subject of heated debate in country inns, where the project developers are presenting their plans to the public. “The cuckoo will die if we don’t take climate change seriously and act. It lays its eggs in other birds’ nests. But the birds that could provide nests are no longer flying south and are breeding earlier.” Migratory birds are becoming resident birds. “This means cuckoos aren’t producing offspring. It’s a perfect example of why we need to rethink the scale on which we want to put the energy transition into practice and reduce CO2 emissions today.”

A market for coal

Is this all in a day’s work for energy thought leaders? “Yes, we have to improve the way in which we explain the energy transition to people locally, otherwise we won’t succeed. The ecosystem beneath a solar field needs more protection than on normal cultivated fields. But people don’t know that.” In terms of technology, he says, Germany is still the world leader in renewable energy. “We can solve any problem with technology cost-effectively, but the planning and political environments are a huge hindrance.” Planning laws need to be adapted quickly. In addition, the mechanisms of the energy market date back to the 1970s or 1980s and no longer work. “We still have a market designed for coal and nuclear power, but we’re pushing wind and sun into this market.” What does he mean by this? “For years, we’ve been telling the major consumers that it’s best if they use a set amount of electricity constantly. Then the grid fees will fall too. With renewable energy, we need to act more flexibly. If there’s a lot of electricity from renewables in the system as there is at the moment, it needs to be cheaper and consumers must be encouraged to use energy in a flexible way.”

Green hydrogen

Moreover, Petersen is calling for the regional participation of citizens in wind farms and solar parks. “The current energy transition is being executed from top to bottom. That doesn’t work because people don’t understand the electricity market and they don’t understand the technology, the grids or the unwieldy regulations either. People need to directly experience what happens to the energy at a local level. That’s why we focus so much on regional projects; for example, we harness wind energy to generate green hydrogen, which then powers the school bus in the village.” This makes transparency, minimal complexity and low energy prices possible, promises Petersen. “It also enables us to solve the problem of temporary storage at a reasonable cost.”

Germany now has to start taking action, Petersen says. In the Netherlands, the government is already planning to phase out gas and is moving towards a green hydrogen economy. In France, too, there is very high demand for renewable energy – the French have a target to source 50% of their energy from renewables. “Even Donald Trump hasn’t been able to destroy the US market because energy policy is a matter for the individual states in many areas.” The oil state of Texas is today one of the world’s wind hotspots. “Apple, Microsoft and many other tech companies are investing heavily in renewable energy. We really notice the effect in the market.”

And then Ove Petersen is quickly back in Brandenburg again. “And we’re mourning a few thousand mining jobs while at least as many jobs in the renewable energy industry are hanging in the balance – a host of new jobs could be created in this sector.”