German government approves pilot projects to set nation on the path to sustainable development

The State Secretaries’ Committee for Sustainable Development has approved offshore windparks, ‘virtual power plants’, fuel cell projects and multifunctional agriculture as part of the nation’s sustainability strategy to be presented next year at the Rio +10 conference.

Chancellery Minister of State Hans Martin Bury presented the cabinet with the plans, stating that “sustainability is a core element of government policy”, more than the continuation of environmental policy, involving a combination of economic, social, and environmental objectives reflected in all policy areas. “With concrete projects we are now making clear the kind of innovative potential contained in the idea of sustainable development”, Bury said, adding that promoting the innovation will mean developing growth and jobs for the future by overcoming contradictions between industry and the environment.

The Committee for Sustainable Development strategy involves concentrating first on three priority areas of policy: climate protection and energy policy; environmentally acceptable mobility; and, the environment, food, and health. On energy supply the government aims to increase energy efficiency by a factor of four and reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 80% by the middle of the century, as well as ensuring supply security, affordability, and environmental acceptability.

The pilot project in the energy sector is aimed at initiating efforts to create large offshore windparks off Germany’s North Sea and Baltic coasts, with experts estimating that around 85 terawatt hours of electricity with an output of up to 25,000 megawatts, could be supplied annually. This corresponds to the amount of electricity produced by eight nuclear power plants. However a number of obstacles remain to be overcome before this ideal can be realised, which the government now wishes to address.

At present, there are 15 applications for permits to construct offshore windparks which will provide more than 12,000 megawatts of electricity annually. The pilot project will create the prerequisites for rapid approval of these windparks in question, with problems over location having stood in the way of issuing permits until now. With the cooperation of the governments of the coastal states, suitable areas are to be set aside where windparks can be constructed, taking into account environmental protection requirements and the interests of the shipping and fisheries industries.

Two fuel cell projects have been approved, one to encourage more sustainable transport and the other involving a ‘virtual power plant’, intended as a test in the decentralisation of power supplies, and testing fuel cells use in households and industry. A large number of decentrally-installed fuel cells in households will networked with one another and controlled by smart technology to have the effect of a power plant, hooked up to the grid. “Just as we have moved in the field of information technology from large and medium-sized mainframe computers to networked PCs and mobile applications, we could also create an ‘internet’ of decentralised power generators,” Bury said.

A further pilot project is aimed at advancing the use of fuel cells and hydrogen in motor vehicles to satisfy the Minister of State’s ambition for “the first zero-emission car to roll off the assembly line in Germany”. In a demonstration project entitled ‘Clean Energy Partnership Berlin’, hydrogen is to be used in fuel cells and engines in around 100 vehicles operated under ordinary conditions. Various types of vehicles are to be used in the test, ranging from passenger cars to utility vehicles and tests and development activities are to be carried out with different forms of hydrogen as well as different filling systems at a hydrogen filling station to be built for this purpose. The project will make it possible to demonstrate the practical feasibility of hydrogen based motor transport under normal everyday conditions, the government says.

In a further transport development, the government now aims to encourage more use of regional rail on secondary routes, since the main railway routes are already in fairly heavy use. An analysis and evaluation of the problems being faced is to be carried out in two regions involving state governments, local governments, as well as other participants such as potential line operators. Objectives include improving access to railway networks, ensuring fair competition among line operators and new organisational forms to transform traditional railway operations into service-providing enterprises, as well as modernising the more than 100-year-old railway network and adapting it to current transportation needs. The intention is to address a sufficiently broad range of issues with a view to moving a larger volume of passenger and freight traffic back onto the railways.

A pilot project on multifunctional agriculture is part of a reorientation of agricultural policy in harmony with the principles of sustainable development, including preserving farmland and forests, creating opportunities for tourism and generating energy from biomass, with multifunctional agriculture giving local farms an opportunity to develop additional sources of income in addition to food and animal feed production. Pilot regions will test centrally-funded projects with the involvement of agriculture, environment, trade and industry, consumers and local authorities. The Federal Ministry of Consumer Protection, Food and Agriculture will organise an interregional competition to enhance the success of the project.

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