The 8th St.Gallen Forum for Management of Renewable Energies (REMforum), which took place last week in Switzerland, provided an ideal platform to discuss pressing questions with the movers and shakers of the energy transition and find inspiring answers to global challenges.
Energy experts from around the world gathered in St. Gallen to discuss the transition to renewables in times of political uncertainties and polarisations. Keynote speeches, panel discussions, and workshops allowed participants to get hands-on insights. Prof. Dr. Dana R. Fisher of the University of Maryland held a dinner talk on the outlook for progressive climate and energy policies in today’s polarised political arena. Since Trump’s election as president, Fischer voiced her concern for the future of renewable energies and climate policies in her home country.
Investing in Tomorrow’s Energy Markets, Today
Prof. Dr. Rolf Wüstenhagen, Good Energies Chair for Management of Renewable Energies at the University of St.Gallen (and host of the REMforum), welcomed all participants and introduced this year’s theme on Friday morning: Investing in Tomorrow’s Energy Markets, Today. In the following panel discussion, Louise Wilson of Abundance Investment, the leading community finance platform for renewable energy in the UK, predicted that “renewables may become the second most important asset class after real estate in the £100 billion UK savings market.” Felix Goedhart, CEO at Blue Elephant Energy, identified the key to mobilise energy investment lies in predictable and reliable policy making, not in high feed-in tariffs.
Zurich Climate Prize
Zurich Insurance presented the winners of the Zurich Climate Prize 2016 and highlighted examples of renewable energy projects. A main prize, three category prizes, and a special prize for start-ups are awarded each year. Projects are sought that contribute to reducing CO2 emissions by cutting resource consumption, increasing energy efficiency or bringing about changes in behaviour. Start-up winners Zum guten Heinrich process misshapen fruit and vegetables into attractive meals for catering, whereby pursuing a comprehensive no waste philosophy. In the category Buildings & Housing, Solaxess won the award. Solaxess manufacture coloured and white films for photovoltaic devices, making them more aesthetically attractive and thus broadening their implementation.
The Customer’s Voice
Next up was Dr. Celine McInerney of the University College Cork, Ireland, to speak about international best practices in community participation, local ownership and community finance for renewable energy projects. Simon Ryser, Vice-President at Schneider Electric, proceeded to discuss energy storage and smart grid solutions, before the floor went to The Customer’s Voice. The Consumer Barometer for Renewable Energies 2017 was presented, sharing new evidence about energy preferences in Switzerland.
The audience learned that 81% of Swiss consumers approve the government’s decision to reduce carbon emissions by 50% by 2030, whilst 61% are interested in investing in a community project for renewables. So how can consumer attitude be turned into consumer behaviour? It is far easier to express a willingness to do something than to actually do it, as Louise Wilson pointed out. More than anything, it is evidence and experience that will bring people to invest, she said.
Workshops add spin to debates
The afternoon allowed visitors to partake in several workshops, ranging from wind project development to exploring the future of e-mobility. Participants could also learn more on how to make capital costs of hydropower plants in Switzerland work for investors. Led by Pascal Vuichard of University of St.Gallen, one workshop explored the crucial role played by large hydropower plants in the overall energy transition. The goal of the workshop was to add a new spin to the debate by asking and elaborating the question of how to get to cheaper capital costs for hydropower plants in order to improve their economic feasibility.
Switzerland now aims to increase its average production, but new hydropower projects are only built when the project itself is economically feasible. Investment decisions for large hydropower projects depend on numerous and complex factors, and they often do not look too promising today. The public debate mostly stays on a generic level and evolves around the currently low electricity prices, predicting future electricity prices and the development of fossil fuel prices. To invest in large hydropower plants is almost impossible for foreign investors. Firstly, most of the plants have a shared ownership (several energy companies owning a single power plant) making negotiations almost impossible, and secondly, the power suppliers have the right of first refusal.
The final panel discussion, dominated by women leaders for a refreshing change, focused on the management of diversity for a successful energy transition, before the forum was rounded off with closing remarks by Prof. Wüstenhagen and Prof. Matthias Sulzer of Empa. The date for next year’s 9th REMforum has already been set, so enthusiasts can mark their calendars already for 30 May and 1 June, 2018.