We are suffering from a trilemma of our own creation

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Where the Australian government sees problems, the Germans saw opportunity, and pursued policies to compatibly address three legs of a successful energy transition simultaneously.

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Politician’s energy priorities do not necessarily align with those of ordinary Australians. DAN HIMBRECHTS/AAP
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  • The German Energiewende and what we can learn from it

The Energiewende(energy transition) ‘is the planned transition by Germany to a low carbon, environmentally sound, reliable, and affordable energy supply’.

This does not sound much like a trilemma, does it? Where the Australian government saw problems, the Germans see opportunity, by pursuing policies which can compatibly address the 3 legs of a successful energy transition simultaneously.

And what are the elements of the German energy transition?

It is a focus on energy productivity (more value for less energy), renewables, and what they call sector coupling – processes to mop up surplus renewable energy – electrification, power to heat,  and hydrogen production.

After an initial focus solely on renewables, the Germans recognised that they had to balance their portfolio to achieve the trifecta of reliable, affordable and low carbon.  Now the priority is on energy efficiency aimed at halving total energy consumption by 2050 (and using their high energy productivity as a competitive advantage), greatly reducing the resources and capital required to supply all remaining energy from renewable sources.

Germany already has one of the highest levels of energy productivity in the world (GDP/primary energy).  But it is improving at well over 2% p.a. and plans to continue improving at 2.1% p.a. on average through to 2050.

Australia has one of the lowest levels of energy productivity in the developed world, and the latest government figures showed our ‘improvement’ rate was -0.1% in 2015/16 and 0.9% in 2016/17, the first 2 years of the National Energy Productivity Plan, a framework that COAG put in place in 2015 which the Commonwealth has failed to adequately budget or resource.

Australia should aspire to implement a balanced, integrated energy transition of our own, also focusing on energy productivity first – to double our energy productivity by 2030, and halve our total energy consumption by 2050.

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