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The Energy Transition

In Greenland ten years ago, I was able to convince myself of the global warming. There was a freely navigable sea, where a glacier had covered the fjord on nautical maps since the 1960s. Over half a century this gigantic glacier melted and retreated over miles into the country. Anyone will look at global warming with different eyes, when they have seen the disappearance of the polar ice.

A large part of Greenland is covered with a 1.5 km thick ice shield. The melting of this ice is a direct effect of global warming and it has an enormous influence on the climate of our planet. Greenland’s ice shield is large enough to rise sea level by seven meters as it melts. According to a report by Science Nordic, Greenland has already lost 9,000 billion tonnes of ice in the 20th century and this rise the sea levels to by 25 millimeters.  In 2002, this melting of the ice shield reached a decisive point of acceleration.

It’s hard to imagine the global consequences of rising sea levels. One consequences is that it reduces the salinity of the ocean which determines large-scale climate effects such as “El Ninjo” with its seasonal hurricanes. While in other regions it promotes desertification and entire coastal regions become uninhabitable due to flooding. The consequences are not only economically incalculable, but also affecting social orders of entire states and regions. As a result of this global climate change wars and refugee movements are only one terrible scenario for the future.

Detox of fossil energy

Global warming is a fact. The process is irreversible, but we can slow it down and gain more time to solve the social and economic problems associated with it. Turning away from fossil fuels for energy production is an important key. CO2 is one of the most important greenhouse gases contributing to global warming. We have increased CO2 emissions by 44%, due to industrialization based on coal, oil and gas.

It would be necessary to halve CO2 emissions every ten years in order to achieve a climate-neutral, stable CO2 balance in 2050

Transformation of the energy industry is politically, economically and technologically possible.

Our global economy is currently still dependent on coal and oil, like a drug addict. We must introduce a radical detox therapy, with nothing less than the total absence from the world economy of coal and oil used for energy production. The goals must be as ambitious as possible because if we only halfheartedly approach this, we will lose the global fight against global warming. The melting of Greenland’s glaciers teaches us one thing: In preventing the oceans’ rising every millimeter counts.

Johann Peterson Fjord Greenland, Photo by Mirko Ross

Transformation of energy sector is politically, economically and technologically possible.

But how can we solve global problems when societies are influenced by local interests? A hard nut to crack until the year 2050. One solution is to set a focus on the economy of industrial nations. Europe does not lack ambitious goals and has the will to restructure the energy industry towards a climate-neutral balance sheet. The Europe Union is committed to the Paris Climate Agreement of 2015, which aims to limit the impact of global warming to a rise of 1.5 degrees Celsius.

There are ambitious plans in the European member states:

Importance of sector coupling

A holistic view on emission sources is needed, in order to stop the increase in greenhouse gases. National climate protection plans are targeting the following sectors:

– Energy

– Industry

– Buildings

– Mobility

– Agriculture

CO2 reduction can be targeted for each sector in concrete actions. By that, the complex problem of global CO2 reduction is broken down into solvable tasks. Sectors can interact in networks, what is called “sector coupling”.

For example, the energy sector interacts closely with every other sector. A conversion of a CO2-neutral industry is not possible if the renewable power requirement for industrial production exceeds economic and infrastructure limits. This becomes a national challenge for example with capacity of power lines, to transport offshore generated wind power from the North Sea has to the south of the Alps is physically adequate.

Our current electricity grid is not designed for such a dynamic large-scale power transmission. On the other hand, eMobility require power lines to supply many small local power consumers with a nationwide infrastructure of charging points. Also, Energy storage capacities is needed to store spare energy and release it on demand. This infrastructure cannot be radically rebuilt in a short period of time. Instead, the redesign requires a planned transformation process to keep stable operation. So that the power grids keep the required power keeps flowing to the socket of consumers.

Future of Energy 2019 Event SIEMENS Austria

A panel discussion at the Future of Energy event made it clear, that we are already are technically able to master most the tasks of sector coupling.

“An economically compatible conversion” is a big but feasible task, according to panelist Prof. Wolfgang Gawlik from the TU Vienna.

Greenland shows that we need international solidarity

Kulusuk Greenland – Photo by Mirko Ross

So you may think that Greenland is particularly sensitive in terms of its CO2 balance with climate change so clearly in mind? Well, Greenland possess a wealth of raw materials that international corporations desire. This includes oil deposits and important bauxite deposits for aluminum production. This plans for an aluminum plant in Greenland would double Greenland’s CO2 emissions. For Greenland this way to “industrialization” would lead to an immense purchase program of CO2 certificates. Such a project is economically highly controversial and unacceptable to Denmark, who is Greenlands patron.

But in the long, the international community cannot ignore Greenland’s desire for economic independence from Denmark. Technology can provide only partial answers to this question. Greenland needs a vision and chances for a climate neutral economy. It is the duty of the industrial nations to support Greenland on this path.