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.