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Redefining Energy: Fascinating conversation with Alexander Voigt the legendary Cleantech innovator

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Gerard Reid's picture
Leader Alexa Capital

Gerard Reid is is focused on assisting people and organizations in the energy and mobility areas who are struggling to understand and come to terms with unpredictable and rapid change going on...

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  • May 8, 2020
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In this Episode, I have a fascinating conversation with Alex Voigt, the legendary Cleantech innovator. Over the past two decades, Alex Voigt, hailed as one of the Founding Fathers of the solar industry, has embodied Germany's Energiewende. Alex has created a whole host of companies such as  Solon and Grips in the solar area, Younicos in battery storage company Younicos. We have a dense, witty and savvy dialogue covering all topics: Solar, Li-Ion batteries , Hydrogen, resistance to innovation, carbon pricing, disruption in district heating through thermal storage … and a meeting with Elon Musk in 2008 on the road to Pasadena.

 

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Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on May 8, 2020

Always exciting to listen to a conversation that can weave through so many important clean energy topics with ease-- well done, Gerard!

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Gerard Reid on May 11, 2020

Thanks!

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on May 8, 2020

Gerard, my question would be whether dependence on sunlight for electricity, in a country with very little of it, is good policy. Germany will miss its 2020 emissions goal by a full 20% - this, while burning trees to generate 26% of its "renewable" energy, slashing its production of carbon-free nuclear energy by half since 2010, and pledging to shut down the other half by...next year?

In short, Germany is going backwards - fast. I understand why venture capitalists see opportunity in selling solar panels and wind turbines there. But that the Energiewende represents a responsible course of action, from an environmental perspective, isn't remotely supportable.

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Gerard Reid on May 11, 2020

Bob, you are asking two questions, one about Germany's CO2 goals and the second about the Energiewende. Let me give you my quick response:

The German government's goal is to reduce CO2 emissions by 40% compared to 1990 levels by the end of this year. As of the end of last year emissions were down 35.7% and I am now 100% sure that the 40% will be reached. The drop may even be 45% thanks to a mild winter and Corona...

As to the Energiewende, there have been very costly mistakes made which I as an energy customer am paying for! That said, without German subsidies solar and wind would not have got to scale and got to the cost levels they now have...

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Bob Meinetz on May 13, 2020

Gerard, solar and wind won't be to scale until they replace all of Germany's coal plants. To do that, solar panels would have to generate electricity at night, wind turbines, when the wind isn't blowing. Cost, needless to say, is irrelevant.

In 2020 Germany remains 100% reliant on burning imported wood chips to keep the lights on. Has meeting Energiewende goals become dependent on destruction of forests and a resurgence of COVID-19 each year? Needless to say, that's hardly sustainable.

"Despite the positive results for renewables production, 'the energy transition is entering the 2020s with an expensive mortgage,' as wind power expansion has almost come to a standstill over the past two years, said Agora head Graichen. He says this trend will continue as most of the 2019 onshore wind power auctions were undersubscribed. 'we will not see robust expansion figures for wind energy in the coming years.'”

Transport and heating tarnish Germany's emission cuts in 2019 – researchers

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Gerard Reid on May 14, 2020

Bob, what should they do?

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Bob Meinetz on May 14, 2020

Gerard, in my opinion - step #1 is keeping Germany's remaining nuclear plants open beyond 2021.

Closing them to pacify the irrational fears of the German public will take an irreparable toll on the environment. Germany is trading the unlikely possibility of a meltdown for the certainty of millions of tonnes of carbon emissions and thousands of local deaths from respiratory illness, not to mention their global implication for climate change.

Many take umbrage when I characterize their fear of nuclear energy as "irrational". But, as pro-nuclear activist Michael Shellenberger has pointed out, we all have irrational fears. After an in-flight incident on a commercial airliner, for years I was afraid of flying, driving cross-country and exposing myself to thousands of times more risk of death from a traffic accident than if I had traveled by air (Michael is irrationally afraid of heights).

In 2017 I was staffing a pro-nuclear booth at the San Francisco March for Science when a man approached and began arguing before we had a chance to speak. "Are you CRAZY?! Nuclear energy leaves WASTE that lasts for THOUSANDS OF YEARS!" etc. When he paused after a minute or two, I was able to learn he was a young child in Germany when the Chernobyl accident happened only 220 miles from the German border. "You must have been terrified," I said. Noticeably calmer, he described how some Germans had driven to France or hidden in cellars - anything to escape the harmful, invisible radiation they imagined raining down from the sky.

Irrational fear, I discovered, can be understandable. But with the imperative of addressing climate change before us, FDR's famous quote has never been more true than now: "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself."

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