Today our delegation attended the opening of the Intersolar/SmarterE Europe 2019 conference and exhibition. Intersolar began in the 1990s and was held in Freiburg, Germany for many years until 2007, when it became so large that it moved to Munich. It is now the world’s largest renewable energy trade fair with international exhibitions in Europe, North America, South America and Asia. With the growth of the industry, Intersolar’s influence and reach has grown to incorporate several related technologies. Under the new brand SmarterE Europe, this year’s event combines four parallel conferences and exhibits including Intersolar, Electrical Energy Storage, Power2Drive, and EM Power.
The conference was opened with an address by director Florian Wessendorf who shared some record breaking data from the past year. In 2018, global investment in renewable energy totaled $332 Billion USD, and this was the fifth year in a row that investment exceeded $300B USD. 2018 was also the first year that solar capacity additions exceeded 100GW. At the same time the electric vehicle market surged with over 5.6 million electric vehicle’s now on the road. And, as the renewable energy and transportation sectors continue to intersect, the energy storage market is now expected to grow 13-fold in the next five years.
Dr. Wessendorf’s presentation was followed by a plenary panel moderated by Wallburga Hemetsberger, CEO of SolarPower Europe. The panel discussed the goal of transitioning to a future where all of the world’s energy will be provided by renewable energy. This has also been a theme in the recent German student climate advocacy campaign “Fridays for the Future”, that advocates for “Renewable Energy 24-7 by 2050”. The panel explored the three major sectors of energy consumption: Heating & Cooling, Transportation, and Electrical Power. Of those, the electrical sector is the easiest to transition to renewable energy and that transformation is already well underway. Panelists were asked to predict when they thought we might reach 100% renewable electricity. Predictions ranged from 2037 to 2050, with the average of the panel being 2040.
Transformation of the heating and cooling sector is somewhat more difficult due to the abundance of existing buildings with poor insulation and building envelopes. On the other hand, for new construction it is actually an easily achievable goal to reach 100% renewable energy by starting with the implementation of German Passive Haus standards to dramatically shrink the building’s energy footprint, and then providing the heating and cooling needs using electricity generated from renewable sources. What is necessary are updates to policies, codes, and regulations to encourage the construction of Passiv Haus, Net-Zero, and Plus Energy buildings.
The most difficult sector to transition to renewable energy is the transportation sector, and all of the panelists indicated that the key component to realize this goal is energy storage. Given Germany’s strong industrial presence in the automotive industry, it was not surprising that this topic generated some of the most spirited discussion and numerous questions from the audience. The panel addressed many of the renewable energy and energy storage technological innovations that are poised to revolutionize the transportation sector in the next decade.
The opening presentations provided a promising glimpse of the world’s energy future. We were impressed by the Germans’ determination to address the elimination of fossil fuels through both technological advancement and policy innovation, and we are eager to learn more throughout the next two days of the conference and the exposition.