University of Minnesota students power up on Germany Renewables Revolution
While many students have been spending their winter break with Netflix, hot cocoa, or a good book, students in study abroad course SUST 3480, “Germany: Leading the Renewables Revolution”, have been exploring the North Rhine-Westphalia region of Germany with IonE Sustainability Education Coordinator Beth Mercer-Taylor, UMN Director of Sustainability Shane Stennes and IonE Director of International Partnerships Sabine Engel.
Students from the University of Minnesota’s Duluth, Morris and Twin Cities campuses are exploring the social, technical and political challenges that Germany has faced in making the transition to renewable energy. This course has given them the chance to meet with policy makers, hear from researchers and educators, and explore communities that are modeling new and integrative approaches to energy systems
On Thursday, January 5th, the student delegation spent the day learning about the work of the Ministry for Climate Protection, Environment, Agriculture, Conservation and Consumer Protection of the State of North Rhine-Westphalia (Ministry MKULNV). The Ministry MKULNV plays a central role in executing the region’s energy transition through coordinating legislative action and supporting the activities of individuals, communities and businesses with guidance and financial assistance to meet environmental and economic goals. Students met with Ministry experts and learned about the history of the energy transition in North Rhine-Westphalia, state strategies for continued progress, and the role of international partnerships in supporting the work of the Ministry.
While Germany has arisen as an international leader in renewable energy, they know they don’t yet have it all figured out. A year end retrospective on energy in Germany highlighted the continued decrease in coal power and CO2 emissions, increasing efficiency in national electricity consumption, and widespread public support for the energy transition as indicators of continued progress. In spite of all the positive moves, economic forecasting predicts problems arising in 2017 as a result of potentially increasing electricity prices, and while electricity use declined in 2016, the rate of decline isn’t yet on track to meet national goals set for 2020.
The University of Minnesota has a history of encouraging collaboration between Germany and Minnesota in the area of sustainable energy systems. While there is a lot to learn from Germany, the state of Minnesota has also become a pioneer in transitioning to new energy systems, with a goal of 25% of energy in the state coming from renewable sources by 2025. In the spirit of this ongoing partnership, and in light of how many challenges still lie ahead, students shared presentations about ongoing efforts in Minnesota with Ministry MKULNV representatives. These presentations addressed topics such as the state of legislative support for energy transition in Minnesota, collaboration between between the University of Minnesota Morris campus and communities in southwest Minnesota, and efforts to increase production of biodiesel from waste grease produced by U of M campuses.
After meeting with Ministry representatives for most of the day, the students and faculty had the special opportunity to join the MKULNV Minister, Johannes Remmel for lunch in a local Dusseldorf restaurant, and learn about his experience supporting the energy transition at a policy level.
As the students wrap up their twelve day trip, they’ll come back with powerful memories: taking a bicycle tour of the city of Muenster, meeting with the mayor of the climate-smart city of Saerbeck and touring inside a wind turbine. The students will return to share their insights with the University community, and we hope to learn from their experiences exploring how energy systems, communities and economies can be transformed to meet the challenges of the future.