Hans-Josef Fell is one of Germany’s most influential ambassadors for 100 per cent renewable energy.
As a former member of the German Parliamentary Group Alliance 90/the Greens, he co-authored the draft of the 2000 Renewable Energy Sources Act, which formed the foundation for national technology developments in photovoltaic, biogas, hydro power, wind power and geothermal energy.
Today Hans-Josef continues his green energy ambassador work in his role as president of the Energy Watch Group. He is also an internationally renowned energy and climate change advisor, author and speaker.
Here, he speaks to Impact4All in an exclusive interview.
Hans-Josef, what motivated you to join the Green Party?
I was influenced by my work for climate protection and against nuclear fission… the Green Party was the only party that focused on all of these issues so there was no question about joining the Green Party.
Are you still actively involved in the Green Party?
I was elected in 1998 until 2013 for the German Parliament and I was very involved in all the green laws then. I personally reported to the German parliament and I’m happy that they adopted the Renewable Energy Sources Act in 2000. I also did a lot more research for strengthening green energy and sustainable biofuels.
In 2013, during the decline of voters for the Green Party, I lost my parliamentarian seat but now I travel the world and speak with governments, ministers, scientists, parliamentarians and CEOs to guide them on political frameworks for green energy.
Would you say Germany has influenced other countries in green energy adoption?
Yes, Germany was a leading country in the last decade up until 2012 and showed how to create new, clean technology in the renewable energy sector. Therefore, Germany was a leading green nation.
But from 2010, renewables came under pressure from opposition of the nuclear and fossil industry within Germany and around Europe as well. This meant we lost our leading nation status to China.
We’ve seen great movements from countries in South America, such as Costa Rica and Uruguay; now they are the leaders. It’s very sad for Germany.
In the German Court of Justice, for example, they want to ban diesel cars because of their pollution but there has been no successful development in Germany for clean cars. In Shenzhen, they have 16,000 electric buses and have already removed all diesel buses. This highlights what we could be doing but are not doing.
This is not good for Europe, this is what I try to highlight to the politicians, to open their eyes to overcome this.
Do you believe the problem lies with politicians thinking ‘short-term’?
It’s unethical to see things short-term. We have some politicians who see the big challenges in the world and want to create frameworks. They have seen the problems and have concluded that it is a result of climate warming. They have seen the problems of declining agriculture in these countries.
They try to find solutions to overcome the future problems. However, the strategy in Europe and other nations is too short-sighted. In the early 2000s we couldn’t see the problems but 10 to 15 years later, we have seen what’s happened with climate change.
A long-term political agenda is very important.
Does the public need educating as well?
Yes, the media and the work Impact4All is doing is very important because the media are influencers for the public. Renewables are now the cheapest option and we have all the technology to balance all the renewables – we need to get this information out there.
The Energy Watch Group together with Lappeenranta University of Technology (LUT) has already run an experiment to simulate that the world could run on 100 per cent renewables. The simulation is astonishing.
The computer simulated the best economic mix with storage, renewable generation, and distribution and it found that the renewable power sector is cheaper than today’s power sector.
We can create lots of new jobs and within 15–20 years have no emissions in the power sector. It is important to open our eyes and ensure that the media voices the scientific evidence to overcome fake news from the fossil fuel industry.
How do we create a political framework that forges the pathway to 100 per cent renewables?
This is a crucial point that is rarely discussed and that’s what I’m doing. I’ve just presented a new political framework paper at the IRENA (International Renewable Energy Association) General Assembly in Abu Dhabi last month.
We must create a political framework with private money, which must flow to clean technology.
We have a complex crazy world where the most profit is earned by polluting the world. This has to change. When the private investors see that private investment in clean technology is profitable and secure, then private money flows.
Most people look into climate protection with public money, to collect billions of dollars for the world’s poorest nations. Public money can leverage private investment but it’s not what we need.
We must stimulate [private] investment and the best way is feed-in tariffs with balanced investment. Then the investors can find the best solutions for the location. I have spoken with many ministers and experts and I hope we will bring what we need from the bottom-up… sector coupling with the transport sector, heating, and cooling sectors.
Does the tender system need to change?
Tenders and auctioning is good for utility scale level over 40MW but under that my advice is to go with the traditional feed-in tariff or combined tariff and then you have covered all sectors. We need both decentralised investment and utilities investment in the world.
Can we keep the temperature increase down to two degrees, as per the COP21 agreement?
We can do it but we should do much more. Today, we have 1.2 degrees of global warming and we see already many disasters in the world. The disasters are great and the damage is great. We should not accept two degrees, my proposal is to keep it down to one degree, this is a much better target.
Clean technologies have no emissions, so we need to substitute all the carbon-emitting technologies in the world on a fast-track basis over the next 20 years – it is possible if we look at the pace at which technology moves.
We can change not only the energy system but the chemical and the transport system too. We can change every technology to zero emission technologies. But that’s only one point, there is also the high concentration of climate gases with about 400 parts per million of CO2 at the moment. This is too high. We have to take the carbon out of the atmosphere and this is possible.
US President Donald Trump is denying climate change, how has this damaged the clean energy industry?
This is a big problem. We need presidents in huge nations to help strengthen the green technology. He will not do it. But the US is not only Donald Trump. We have many states, such as California, who are opposing Trump. Californian Governor Jerry Brown is arranging a summit on how to fast-track to 100 per cent renewables this year. Brown has a coalition of other states and there is also a worldwide movement from cities and regions, from big companies like Google and Ikea, who have a 100 per cent renewable strategy for their own businesses. This is a great development.
What’s more, the US is mostly business-driven and the renewables now are cheaper than coal, natural gas, nuclear and oil and therefore they will win out in America. Trump can try to cancel it but he doesn’t really have a chance.