Renewable energy: where it pushes progress

Let's face it: The will of the Austrians - 79 percent want a rapid energy transition (GFK, 2014) - is not enough, what it takes are political decisions. The fact that the share of renewable energy in the Alpine republic now accounts for around 32 percent, for Johannes Wahlmüller of the environmental organization Global 2000 mainly the following reasons: "New impetus came in Austria through the new green electricity law amendment 2012 and by the then continued rising prices for fossil energy. In the meantime, Austria spends - per year - 12,8 billion euros on imports for oil, coal and gas. That's a lot of money that goes abroad and does not stay effective in Austria. "Apart from environmental protection, there is also an economic urgency to renounce fossil fuels.

Energy mix in Austria

Erective energies 1
Primary energy production, energy imports and total energy consumption in petajoules PJ, 2014 (without exports) This is a representation of the overall situation in Austria - not to be confused with sub-areas such as end consumer or electricity generation statistics. Consumption by industry is also included here. In the energy industry, primary energy is the energy that is available with the originally occurring forms of energy or energy sources, such as fuel, but also energy sources such as the sun, wind or nuclear fuels. Total energy consumption (or gross inland consumption) describes the total energy needs of a country (or region). This includes own production of raw energy, foreign trade balances and changes in inventories. In simple terms, gross inland consumption is the total energy demand prior to conversion in power plants, heating plants, combined heat and power plants, refineries and coking plants. Source: Federal Ministry of Science, Research and Economy and Statistics Austria (as of May 2015).

For the umbrella organization Renewable Energy Austria, the goal is very clear, says Jurrien Westerhof: "We want 100 percent renewable, clean energy. No one doubts that this is possible - with forests, rivers and the sun there is enough green energy - if at the same time we manage to reduce the waste of energy in traffic and poorly insulated buildings. Renewable energy costs have fallen sharply in recent years. Renewable heat is largely competitive and renewable electricity could compete in the market - if that market were fair. "

Prices & hidden costs

But, what slows down the journey into the energy future of Austria? "If fossil energy prices fall again - as is currently the case - there is also a lack of incentives to switch to renewable energy or use energy more sparingly. The key issue is that the hidden costs of CO2 are not priced in. With an eco-social tax reform that puts more strain on fossil fuels and in turn lowers other taxes, the government could change that. The first starting point here could be the abolition of the tax concessions for coal-fired power generation in Austria, "said Wahlmüller of Global 2000. Westerhof also sees it this way: "The problem is that the CO2 pollution rights for coal-fired power plants are almost free, and that nuclear power plants pay far too little for risk-taking and waste-disposal. This gives them a competitive advantage in the market. If that were not the case, then clean electricity could meanwhile prevail largely on its own. "

Gross domestic consumption of renewable energies

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The breakdown by total gross domestic consumption of renewable energies in percent (excluding hydropower). In total (hydropower and other renewable energies), they already covered 2013 percent in 29,8 year. Not to be confused with pure end consumer data! (Source: bmwfw, 2013)

High import dependency

Energy is not equal to energy, it seems. The fact is, however, that Europe-wide security of supply must be guaranteed. With the exception of Norway (-470,2 percent), all EU countries depend on a significant percentage of energy imports to meet their own energy needs. The energy dependence is calculated as the net import divided by the sum of the gross domestic energy consumption including storage. For Austria, the statistics office of the European Union Eustat indicates the percentage 2013 for the year 62,3.
For political reasons, investment must therefore be made in European energy production. However, influential circles in the EU seem to see greater leverage in, say, nuclear energy. "In Europe, coal, gas and nuclear power plants are also subsidized two to three times as much as all renewable energies together, and health and environmental costs have not yet been taken into account. For the United Kingdom, the European Commission recently waved through nuclear power for the Hinkley Point C nuclear power plant. Distributed over 35 years, more than 170 billion euros are to be distributed in subsidies, "says Stefan Moidl, of the interest group IG Windkraft.

But in Austria, too, things go wrong, says Bernhard Stürmer from ARGE Kompost & Biogas: “Every year, Mr and Mrs Austrians spend over twelve billion euros on energy imports. The support volume for electricity from biogas is around 50 million - from and for Austria. The greatest obstacle to the expansion of renewables is ignorance. Fossil forms of energy are also promoted in Austria. But that is not on any bill and it is not discussed publicly. With the approximately 70 million tax breaks granted for coal-based power generation, 50 biogas plants could be built. "

Fossil lobbying

But fossil fuels are not (yet) currently available. A circumstance on which probably also a financially strong lobby constantly points - to the last drop of crude oil. "Every now and then, an attempt is being made to slow down the energy transition, to talk badly and to hinder structural changes in order to be able to produce dirty coal and nuclear power for as long as possible. The big energy companies, which initially underestimated the market opportunities of renewable energy, have invested heavily in PR campaigns to damage the image of unwanted competition. Above all, the debate about the "high cost of renewable energy", which dominated the media coverage, is the result of these campaigns. Daily is advertised for the installation of oil heaters. But other industries, such as the paper industry, which in the past has had a monopoly on low-grade wood, are tirelessly mobilizing against the unwanted competition of energy use, "says Christian Rakos, of ProPellets, also seeing a marked imbalance in public relations and honesty.

Something that also poses a problem for electricity suppliers, as Wilfried-Johann Klauss of AAE Naturstrom confirms: "As before, there is a great reluctance to change in Austria. This is related to the fact that the eco-electricity market is also working a lot with customer delusion, just as with organic products. Thus, customers often simply decide to stay with the provincial provider to take no risk. It's a pity, because honest providers like us are having a hard time. "

Conscious use

But also nonsense, which concerns the use of electricity, is becoming widespread. Conscious energy consumption also means using energy sources efficiently, depending on use. Rakos from Propellets provides an example: "Heating with electricity is by far the most inefficient form of heat supply. This is because in winter, electricity production is dominated by nuclear and coal power plants. 800 Millions of tons of coal are burned every year to produce electricity in Europe, an unimaginable amount. A coal-fired power plant converts about 2,5 of kilowatt-hours of coal-based energy into one kilowatt-hour of electrical energy. Using this power for heating means that you consume much more energy than with the direct combustion of an energy source. Although heat pumps are more efficient than direct heating systems, they generate an average of one kilowatt hour of electricity for 2,5 kilowatt hours of heat. In the end, however, this is not more efficient than the direct use of the respective fossil energy source. Heat pumps are currently being targeted by the power industry, because they are hoping for a big new market here. From the point of view of climate protection and the use of renewable energy certainly a problematic development. "

Hurdle infrastructure

The will to change is a prerequisite, resistance preprogrammed, but the actual change can not be implemented from one day to the next. "Unfortunately, the expansion of renewable energies is not enough to achieve the energy transition," Stefan Moidl from IG Windkraft addresses the problem of the existing infrastructure: "The power lines and the electricity market are designed for central coal and nuclear power plants. Both have to be rebuilt for clean renewable power generation. In a situation where the big energy providers are writing billions of losses, that's not an easy thing. This is how the renewable energies are badly talked about. The reason is obvious. Coal and nuclear plant operators generate electricity whether it is needed or not. These power plants can not be so easily throttled. So every coal and nuclear power plant that produces electricity is a real obstacle to the energy transition. Because when the sun is shining and the wind blows, we do not know where to go with the many coal and nuclear power. Not only is it polluting and dangerous, it's already superfluous at certain times. "

Gudrun Stöger of Oekostrom AG also confirms this difficult obstacle: "We do not have the problem that these forms of energy - renewables - are not accepted or accepted, but that we are still dependent on fossil fuels in the prevailing systems. Because the energy issue is de facto an infrastructure issue. And the existing infrastructure can not be rebuilt in an instant - it takes several years, if not decades. However, the transformation of the energy system towards renewables could be even faster in Austria - here, those responsible should take Germany as a model. "
Nachsatz: But this conversion will only be possible if we halve our final energy consumption by the year 2050 - not only in the area of ​​electricity, but especially in traffic and space heating. Otherwise applies to the renewable energies: "Only the sky is the limit."

Opinions - Status quo after energy source

"The expansion of renewable energies has gained momentum in Austria in recent years. The cause is the Green Electricity Act, which has provided stable conditions since 2012, giving investors the security they need. Especially in wind power and photovoltaic power generation increases significantly, and the heat production from renewable biomass, pellets and sun turns out to be a perennial because the heating costs are low. "
Jurrien Westerhof, Renewable Energy Austria

"Renewable energy already accounts for 32,2 percent of total energy consumption in Austria. This is already scratching close to the mark of the EU's target for Austria to increase its stake to 34 percent to 2020. A new impetus came in Austria through the new Green Electricity Law Amendment 2012 and the hitherto continuously rising prices for fossil energy. "
Johannes Wahlmüller, Global 2000

"Although our family business has existed for almost 130 years, it was only with the deregulation of the electricity market in the year 2000 that we were able to perform on the entire Austrian market. Until then, we were limited in terms of customer supply to our small regional power grid in Kötschach (Carinthia in the Gail Valley), where we were able to supply about 650 pantographs. From this point on, however, we were able to offer our natural power throughout Austria, which led to the fact that we were currently supplying approx. 25.000 collectors with AAE natural electricity. "
Wilfried-Johann Klauss, AAE Naturstrom


"Biogas is the only technology that can produce energy and fertilizer from residues of food and feed production. Waste recycling and the dual use of agricultural land can make an important contribution to the circular economy of nature. Currently, Austrian biogas plants produce around 540 GWh of electricity (about 150.000 households) and feed 300 GWh heat (30 million liters of heating oil) into local heating networks, etc. In addition, 88 GWh biomethane will be fed into the natural gas grid. Currently, a lot of potential is not used. Biomethane is best used as fuel. Unfortunately, the gas vehicles on the road and the will to pay more for biomethane are still missing. "
Bernhard Stürmer, ARGE Kompost & Biogas Austria

Wood & coal

"In Austria today we are able to cover almost one third of the total energy demand from renewable energy. The use of wood as an energy source, be it firewood, wood chips or pellets, plays the leading role here with 60 percent of renewable energy sources, followed by hydropower with 35 percent share. In Europe, too, the ambitious targets of the European Commission have led to an enormous growth process in the use of renewable energy. The successes, however, focus primarily on the generation of electricity with renewable energy. For the supply of heat, at least half of the total European energy demand, fossil fuels are still used almost exclusively. "
Christian Rakos, ProPellets


"Photovoltaics in Austria has experienced an enormous boom since 2008. Almost every year, the amount of space was doubled. The record year was provisional 2013, however, due to the special financing of pent-up funding applications. For the year 2015, we expect the first gigawatt peak in installed capacity. The decisive step in the further development of photovoltaics in Austria was the hard-won increase in the tax exemption for self-consumption to 25.000 kilowatt hours per year. Photovoltaics has decreased by about 80 percent since the turn of the millennium and will reach full marketability for self-consumption of the electricity generated by the beginning of the next decade. "
Hans Kronberger, Photovoltaic Austria

Wind power

"At present, more than 1.000 wind turbines are producing in Austria with a total output of 2.100 MW and generating as much electricity as 1,3 millions of households are consuming. Across Europe, all wind turbines already contribute more than ten percent to cover power consumption, and worldwide it is just under five percent. In the last 15 years, more wind power has been developed in Europe than all other power plants. The use of wind energy to generate electricity has thus grown into one of the most important branches of the energy industry. This quite to the displeasure of the classic e-economy. Much too late, she has recognized the signs of the times and now sits on old and even new coal and gas power plants that are no longer profitable. "
Stefan Moidl, IG Windkraft

Options - More suggestions

"What's stopping us? Where should I start there? In addition to spatial planning and private transport, the fact that we have no ecological tax system, that the power of the nuclear lobby within the EU is still too large, the price of CO2 certificates remains too low. In addition, common electricity labeling throughout the EU is still missing. Too few and capped subsidies for new renewables such as PV and wind power in Austria or the fact that PV is still prohibited in Austrian cities - keyword multi-family houses - do the rest. Unfortunately, this list would still be renewable. "
Gudrun Stöger, Oekostrom AG

"The most important steps towards further development will be regional steps to reduce bureaucracy in the federal states and the possibility of creating multi-party facilities. The optimization of the use of funds in the Green Electricity Act is also extremely important. The trend is towards investing subsidies also for facilities over 5 kWp. The Federal Association of Photovoltaic Austria is aiming for an expansion volume from 8 percent of the electricity share to 2020 in Austria. The next big challenge is to combine PV power production with appropriate storage systems. "
Hans Kronberger, Photovoltaic Austria

"Renewable Energy Austria requires the Austrian government to swiftly adopt a new energy strategy - with the central goal being to completely switch the energy supply to renewable energy sources as far as 2050."
Jurrien Westerhof, Renewable Energy Austria

"It's high time for the next steps in the energy transition: coal and nuclear power plants have lost nothing in a modern power generation system. A chipped shutdown plan for these power plants is long overdue. "
Stefan Moidl, IG Windkraft

Photo / Video: Shutterstock.

Written by Helmut Melzer

As a long-time journalist, I asked myself what would actually make sense from a journalistic point of view. You can see my answer here: Option. Showing alternatives in an idealistic way - for positive developments in our society.

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