The Germany-Minnesota energy connection
Minnesota and Germany have a lot in common — ancestry, cultural traditions, climate. Now, in a German-Minnesota energy policy exchange, the two are also sharing technology and policy innovations as they both transition from coal-based to low-carbon energy economies. And the University of Minnesota Institute on the Environment is facilitating the partnership.
For the past five years, leaders from the University, the Minnesota Legislature and the business and non-profit communities have been meeting to strategize how best to achieve Minnesota’s goal of 25 percent renewable energy by 2025. Sabine Engel, then director of the University’s Center for German and European Studies, connected those leaders to energy experts in Germany to exchange knowledge about transitioning to a clean energy economy. IonE and the University’s Office of the Vice President for Research have co-sponsored the exchanges, known as the Berlin Seminars on Energy Policy, with funding for University staff to travel to Germany.
Between 2011 and today, Engel has put together five delegations of Minnesota energy leaders to participate in the annual policy exchanges. The June 2015 seminar delegation included IonE managing director Lewis Gilbert, University of Minnesota Energy Transition Lab director and IonE fellow Ellen Anderson, Minnesota commissioner of agriculture Dave Frederickson, state senators David Senjem and Vicki Jensen, and state representatives Kurt Daudt, Joyce Peppin, and Melissa Hortman. Hortman and state senator John Marty, another Berlin seminar alumnus, are co-authors of recent legislation to facilitate more widespread implementation of community solar projects.
“I think there has been a real magic in the connections at the local levels. Sabine has connected city leaders from across the Atlantic who are dealing with the same challenge: ‘How can our local government take meaningful action to address climate change?’” says Hortman. “The German-Minnesota policy exchanges have been deeply productive and led very directly to Minnesota’s adoption of community solar.”
Recently, Engel was brought on staff at IonE to help Minnesota “understand the difference between renewable energy technology and deployment in Germany and Minnesota, why they are different and how Minnesota can learn and benefit from those differences,” says Gilbert.
In addition to the community solar legislation, other agreements have come out of the policy exchanges, including an international collaboration between Minnesota and the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia, and a partnership between sister cities Morris, Minnesota, and Saerbeck, Germany, “with the joint goal of contributing at the local level to meeting the global challenge of climate change and to creating paths toward a climate friendly future on the transition to renewable energy,” according to the agreement. Both rural cities have opportunities to explore solar, biomass and wind technologies.
In her role as program director of international energy policy and cooperation at IonE, Engel will work with community partners to mine the most current research and solutions available around the world.
“These agreements show three things,” says Engel. “Even in our fast-paced world of virtual communication, direct face-to-face encounters and exchanges matter; bringing together individuals with diverse interests in a science-rich context will lead to the best understanding and truly collaborative solutions; and the U of M’s long-standing relationship with Germany — currently the world’s leading nation when it comes to transitioning from fossil fuels to renewable energy — allows Minnesota to tap more directly the experience on what works and what doesn’t. Building on that expertise and improving it will lead to a great ‘made in Minnesota’ solution to one of the world’s grand challenges.”
Photo by TebNad (iStock)