Bertrand Piccard is looking forward to an especially awe-inspiring moment. When he circles the globe next year in his solar-powered aircraft, he will cross the Pacific in one of the stages of his flight. The crossing will take five days and nights. “It’ll get exciting in the middle, after two-and-a-half days,” Mr. Piccard told the more than 300 assembled guests at the Berlin Museum for Communication, “it’s too late to turn around, but I also don’t know exactly what’s ahead of me.”
The Germans are in the same situation with their Energiewende, the federal government’s shift away from nuclear power and toward green energy, said the 56-year-old Swiss adventurer. There is no turning back, but it’s also unclear whether the project will succeed in the end. There are many skeptics at the moment, he added, people who feel that the transition to renewable energy is too costly and complex. But the Germans must remain resolute, Mr. Piccard added, and it’s up to their politicians to create the conditions to ensure that the project is a success. The world needs more than pioneers flying in a solar-powered aircraft, he said. It also needs courageous people to expedite the Energiewende.
The guests had gathered in Berlin to honor such individuals. The Energy Academy, a think tank initiated by Handelsblatt and General Electric (GE), was presenting its Energy Awards for the second time. Referred to as the Oscars of the energy sector, they are intended to promote people, companies and ideas that contribute to the success of the Energiewende.
“The Energiewende needs beacons,” said Michael Lucke. “It needs businesses and entrepreneurs who refuse to be discouraged.”
Mr. Lucke, managing director of the Allgäuer Überlandwerk (AÜW), an electric utility in the southern Allgäu region, is one of them. His company was honored as “Public Utility of the Year.” The regional electricity supplier decided early on to convert a large portion of its energy supply to renewable energy, which included the construction of a large solar farm on the site of a former landfill. AÜW already produces 35 percent of its electricity with renewable energy, with a goal of 70 percent. “We want to become the most innovative energy company in Bavaria,” Mr. Lucke said emphatically.
“We want to become the most innovative energy company in Bavaria.”
Next Energy received the award for the best start-up company. Cologne-based founders Hendrik Sämisch and Jochen Schwill bundle large numbers of small electricity producers, including farmers, into a virtual power plant, and then sell the electricity collectively. This helps producers achieve a good price for their electricity, and it also helps grid operators control fluctuations.
The Alunorf aluminum plant in Neuss, near Düsseldorf, was named the “Commercial Plant of the Year.” Working hand-in-hand with a supplier, the plant’s engineers designed and produced special furnaces to process hot aluminum during milling without the need to cool the material repeatedly. “This allows us to save as much electricity as is consumed by 9,000 households,” said project director Olaf Trepels. It also saves the plant millions. “I’m doing something for the environment, but it also helps our bottom line,” he explained.
Ubitricity won the award for “Means of Transportation of the Year.” Berliners Knut Hechtfischer and Frank Pawlitschek have invented an intelligent solution for charging electric cars. Instead of setting up expensive charging columns, they have integrated the billing system into a charging cable, which can be connected to ordinary outlets.
The Plusenergiehaus in Darmstadt was honored as the “Energy House of the Year.” The architects took an ordinary house built in 1970 and renovated it, both visually and in terms of energy consumption, so that it now generates more electricity than it consumes.
Mr. Piccard was also honored. Each year, the Energy Academy chooses its “Energizer of the Year,” an individual who has made a particularly strong contribution to a global shift toward green energy. Mr. Piccard isn’t just one of the greatest adventurers of our time, said Stephanie Schoss, a member of the academy’s board and of the supervisory board of Swiss investment firm Susi Partners, but also one of the country’s greatest visionaries and pioneers. “We want to give a platform to pioneers of the Energiewende here. We want to provide them with energy so that they can master the challenges they face to make the world a better place,” she said.
In the words of Stephan Reimelt, chief executive of GE Energy Germany and one of the two chairmen of the Energy Academy, the world needs the kind of people who receive the Energy Award to make the Energiewende a success. “This is a major social project, one that’s driven by innovation,” said Mr. Reimelt. “We don’t just need ideas. We also need people who are successfully transforming them into products and services.” Germany, he added, is the biggest “energy laboratory in the world.”
Hans-Jürgen Jakobs, his co-chairman and the editor in chief of Handelsblatt, believes the Energy Academy has already become established as a brand in its second year. It has appointed 200 members who, as Mr. Jakobs put it, constitute “a panel of experts with a great deal of bundled expertise.”
The Energy Awards are sponsored by business partners Deutsche Telekom, EDF Deutschland and the Bearing-Point consulting firm, and by the magazine Bellevue and More, the N-TV news channel and the energy information service Energate, as media partners.
The evening’s guest of honor concluded the ceremony with an appeal to the assembled representatives of the energy industry. “All of these winners, from start-ups to small and large companies, help to change our world,” said Mr. Piccard. “Let them all be ambassadors and take this spirit out into the world.”
Jürgen Flauger covers the energy sector for Handelsblatt, Georg Weishaupt reports on the latest developments in the construction and renewables sectors. To contact the authors: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com.