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Transparency: The energy transition in my front-yard

Sabine Froning's picture
Managing Partner, Communication Works - Banek, Froning, Reise GmbH

Managing Partner @Communication Works - Banek, Froning, Reise GmbH. 30 years of experience with Public and Regulatory Affairs as well as strategic communication for the European power and heat...

  • Member since 2018
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  • Jul 23, 2019

This item is part of the GIS in Utilities - Summer 2019 SPECIAL ISSUE, click here for more

Discussions about the transition from a centralized fossil to a decentralized renewable energy system in general often turn into emotional controversies - between politicians and planning authorities, nature conservation and energy protagonists, and last but not least, citizens. Marion Schilling, Head of the Regional Planning Authority Anhalt-Bitterfeld-Wittenberg, knows how to sing a song about this. Together with a good thirty other "close relatives" of the energy turnaround, she accepted the invitation of the Energy Avant-garde Anhalt to a the launch of an "Interactive Energy Atlas Anhalt" in the German Federal Environment Ministry in Dessau.

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"If we want to overcome opposites, we need to have tools to have a more objective debate," says Schilling. It's not only citizens, politicians and investors who are arguing about the right way forward. Many different hearts are beating even in the Environment Ministry itself. "There are nature conservationists, animal protectionists, landscape conservationists, but also those who should take care of the expansion of renewable energies. They all have different responses to the question what should happen next", she explains.

Land use is a very controversial issue

This is exactly where the interactive Energy Atlas[1] comes in. "The atlas really is a stakeholder empowerment tool enabling everyone in the region to participate in energy issues," explains Mascha Richter from the Reiner-Lemoine-Institut, which developed the energy atlas. "It is about how the region can supply itself with the highest possible share of renewable energies while at the same time taking land use into account. There is a lot of competition between concepts". 

The financial means for this were provided by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research as part of the Copernicus project ENavi[2], short for "Energy Transition Navigation". There is also a growing awareness in the ministries that transparency and participation are decisive factors in whether the energy system transformation can still be successful at all.

On the one hand, the "navigation maps" show the current situation. Which generation plants of which type and size are already in which locations today, and how well do generation and consumption in the region match? In addition, the atlas allows various scenarios to be tested. Everyone can visualize their own ideas on how the goal of a 100% renewable energy system can be achieved. How much energy can and must be saved? Can biogas plants be used more flexibly? How much space is available for solar plants? Is there any space left for wind farms without affecting residential and landscape conservation areas?

"Extremely helpful"

Marion Schilling sees a great benefit in the fact that you can now show exactly how much energy you need for the region and how you could cover it. "Somehow it's clear that we'll still be using electricity and heating after we get out of coal," she says. But first of all one can base scenarios on the assumption that the region will be self-sufficient and produce as much renewable energy as it consumes. Then, of course, it would be another decision to export energy.  "If we can now illustrate the energy concept of the region with this instrument, that is extremely helpful. We should therefore make very intensive use of it," recommends Schilling.  

The fact that citizens have a say in the energy transition is particularly obvious when it comes to wind energy. A representative Forsa survey recently confirmed that 83 percent of respondents consider the use and expansion of onshore wind energy to be "important" or "very important" in the context of the energy transition. And yet there are always disputes when projects become concret.  

Objective assessment of various options

According to the experience of Dr. Matthias Bruhn, disputes often arise from a lack of objective information. The trained energy engineer has himself participated in the project planning of many energy plants and is now active as a mediator in the energy sector. He is also pleased about the new digital instrument. The interactive energy atlas creates transparency. "I hope that one can weigh arguments more objectively, if one has the possibility of comparing different options for the power supply in the region. And that we can talk about it." 

Bruhn is not yet sure whether he can use the energy atlas in his own work. Nevertheless, he feels that attending the workshop has already paid off for him: "I took a lot out of the discussions. And if we have a mediation to do here in the region, we will certainly work with it".

What happens next?

At the moment, the Interactive Energy Atlas refers primarily to power generation and consumption. Inspired by the possibilities, many workshop participants were able to imagine even more advanced functions. At the top of the wish list is the consideration of the heating sector and the transport sector or how these sectors interact. 

The two project partners can also well imagine this. "We are pleased about the feedback and the interest. Together with partner organisations such as the Energy Avant-garde Anhalt, we want to find ways of further developing the tool and adding more functions," explains Richter.  

In addition to the many data and algorithms, Mediator Bruhn has another wish: "It would be important for my work not only to have this electronically, but also a contact person who can use the tool and answer questions at a meeting."

Useful links:

Energieavantgarde Anhalt:


Access to the Interactive Energy Atlas:


Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Jul 23, 2019

"If we want to overcome opposites, we need to have tools to have a more objective debate," says Schilling.

This is great advice. When people act out of fear or misinformation, more often than not they're coming from a place that can and should be understood, and approaching them with facts and easy to understand tools is critical to any productive conversation. There will always be some who dig their heels in, but these people must be seen as partners, not opposition, if ground is to be made up

Sabine Froning's picture
Sabine Froning on Jul 23, 2019

Agree - we have conducted a number of survey clearly showing that what citizens most want is to have a say in what is happening. Transparency, dialogue and participatory approaches are key. 

Sabine Froning's picture
Thank Sabine for the Post!
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