Power Talks: Berlin Energy Transition Dialogue Week 2024

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March 22, 2024
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6 min read
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International dignitaries, energy bigwigs, and the climate tech community descended on Berlin last week for a series of events based around the 10th Berlin Energy Transition Dialogue (BETD). With spring sunshine in abundance, Climate Copy saddled up our bikes to attend four events across the city.

Day One: Old and New Guards
The BETD event itself was the marquee show, hosted in the imposing German Federal Foreign Office, or Auswärtiges Amt, with the massive scale of the challenges facing renewable energy companies, policymakers, and entrepreneurs matching the surroundings.

On March 19, the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) delivered its sobering findings that the “energy transition remains offtrack.” The organization published a report tracking COP28 outcomes in which it found that the agreed goal of a tripling of renewable energy capacity by 2030 remains some distance away. 

IRENA found that while 473 GW of renewable energy installations were achieved in 2023, setting a new record, an annual volume of 1,100 GW must be achieved over the next six years for the lofty COP28 goal to be met. 

“We urgently need a systemic shift away from fossil fuels to course-correct and keep the tripling goal within reach,” said IRENA head Francesco La Camera, who spoke at Energy Transition Dialogue.  

Around 25 energy and climate change ministers and department heads from a host of countries took part in on-stage discussions at the event, meaning the right people were in the room to hear the message. 

Germany's Greens' Party foreign minister, Annalena Baerbock, hosted a panel with Fatih Birol, the Director General of the International Energy Agency, Tom K. Alweendo, the Namibian energy minister, and Ndiarka Mbodji, a Berlin-based entrepreneur whose company Kowry Energy specializes in delivering solar projects in sub-saharan Africa. 

Interviewing Birol in the post-panel press scrum

The IEA’s Birol addressed the press afterwards and made it clear that while there are promising signs, the energy transition is not occurring fast enough. 

“The energy transition is moving very fast in many of the advanced economies,” said Birol, naming Europe, North America, Japan, and the “by-far leader” China. However, he noted that accelerating deployment in developing economies is crucial for the global energy transition to kick into gear. 

“The problem is how we are going to accelerate the clean energy transition in the developing world, in the rest of Asia, in Africa, Latin America,” said Birol. “For me the key issue how we are going to create mechanisms in order to facilitate the financing in these countries.”

Assessing Impact
Financing was also in focus across town at the Startup Energy Transition (SET) Festival, hosted at the industrial Westhafen Event and Convention Center. A major topic of discussion at the event was the financing of smart, young clean technology ideas that will comprise the major climate-impact companies of the future. 

Another prominent theme was how the climate impact of startups is assessed. Representatives of the various venture capital (VC) firms speaking on stage were clear that the demonstration of a significant impact was required to attract early-stage funding, alongside a pathway to commercial success. 

Cruising through SET Tech Fest at the Westhafen Center

Describing how impact can be quantified as “the geeky stuff", Magnus Anderström from the Cleantech Scandinavia fund, noted that each VC firm has its own criteria and methodology for assessing climate impact, making the process a largely subjective one. 

A major feature of SET was its five awards, with 15 finalists from 12 countries pitching throughout the day. In the Clean Energy and Storage category the winner was Sweden’s Cling Systems, which aims to enable battery second-life usage through digital platforms, physical processes, and networking.

Breathing new life into old batteries, which may have run their course in things like EVs but would serve stationary applications well, has clear carbon-footprint advantages over scrapping them and attempting to recover valuable materials through recycling. But exactly what volume of carbon emissions this avoids is difficult to pin down. 

The need for circularity, with reuse being a largely impactful component, in the battery supply chain is abundantly clear. PwC found that battery electric vehicle (BEV) sales grew 23% in the top-5 European marketplaces in 2023 – a trend that is likely to rapidly accelerate as battery costs fall and the number of EV models available on the market grows.

Day Two: Swedish Innovation
Kicking off the second day, the Swedish Embassy hosted an event at the Nordic Embassies, in which Swedish climate innovation took center stage. “Swedish x German Pathfinding: Catalysing the urban shift to climate neutrality” culminated in pitches from 10 Swedish climate tech scale-ups and Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs) looking to expand into Germany. 

A presentation from internet entrepreneur Jonas “Birger” Birgersson was a particular highlight, in which he outlined a radical vision for cities powered by abundant renewable energy and enabled by the “internetification” of the energy system. 

Visiting the Nordic Embassies which, of course, featured an exhibition on saunas

Lund is set to host one of six “system demonstrator” projects in which behind-the-meter energy systems will be installed in a part of the city to pilot Birger’s rethinking of clean energy generation, orchestration, and delivery. Climate Copy will be covering the project and concept in more detail in the coming months. 

Berlin’s Clean Startups
Cities were the focus at our fourth and final event, again across town at the Festhaal Kreutzberg. Cities, after all, account for about 3% of the Earth’s surface and produce about 72% of all global greenhouse gas emissions (as Birger reminded us during his presentation earlier in the day). 

The “Urban Innovation Forum” coupled striking branding with impressive online meeting and networking features. And while the event had a fresh perspective, some familiar themes emerged.

In a panel discussing the acceleration of climate innovation, the growth of what is considered “green innovation” was laid bare. A recent survey was referenced in which it was found that one-third of German startups in 2023 identified as addressing the “green” economy – presumably the relatively broad climate tech grouping. 

Similarly, Tess Dury from Berlin clean tech VC Extantia noted that the number of funds claiming to be climate “impact investors” has increased markedly in recent years. And the question resurfaced – how is “impact” measured?

For Extantia, explained Dury, models are applied to various startups’ business models, so that a carbon abatement number – out into the 2050s – can be estimated. Extantia itself has a head of carbon math, Professor Francesco Pomponi, on staff to develop and apply the model. 

While these efforts are admirable, the standardization challenge remains. Not all calculations of climate impact are created equal, it would be safe to assume. 

Tired but inspired, rounding out the conference at the Urban Innovation Forum

The two days of events highlighted this and other numerous challenges to achieving COP28 renewable energy goals, but also the abundant innovation and transformational thinking being applied to the challenge. 

Under the spring sunshine and biking from venue to venue, often via specialized bike lanes, a sense of how urban centers will play a central role in clean energy innovation and deployment became clearer. Berlin herself appears well placed to become a “climate impact hub,” as clearly the city and German federal officials hope she will. 

We can take stock of the progress on all fronts when the BETD, SET and other side events roll into town. Climate Copy will happily be along for the ride.

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