Held in September every year, the FICHTNER Talks are a regular fixture on the calendar of the energy sector. This does not change even for the corona pandemic, so this year they took place online. In this blog, I report on the struggle for an arc of suspense and the story of how the event came to be.

Autumn 2019: FICHTNER Talks 2019 were held in Villa Levi and sparked ongoing discussions, some of which we have expanded on through Fichtner forums and individual exchanges. Countless discussions with my business partners and the FICHTNER Talks community have revealed a clear concern about climate change and its consequences. “Zero Emissions” with its various strategic approaches, opportunities and consequences gradually emerged as a guiding theme for FICHTNER Talks 2020.

Winter 2019: My conception of it is that the arc of suspense surrounding “Zero Emissions” should examine all the different facets. From the global impacts of the climate crisis, to national legislation, through to the specific political framework and scientifically justified recommendations – prominent representatives should shed light on their perspective and scrutinize it. My ideal for the program is ambitious, aiming to have as its key speakers Mr. Untersteller, energy and environmental minister, Professor Schmidt, chairman of the German Council of Economic Experts, and Professor Obersteiner, designated director of the Environmental Change Institute (ECI) at the University of Oxford. I have a longstanding business friendship with all of them.

I know Michael Obersteiner from my doctoral studies (1990) when he was working on real options models at the IIASA (International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis) and I was developing LP models at the University of Stuttgart for energy planning in developing countries. A constructive dispute over methods brought us together. I was able to congratulate him during the FICHTNER Talks on his simultaneous appointment as head of the ECI.

The content-related economic approaches of Prof. Schmidt from the German Council of Economic Experts along with our mutual affinity for one another enabled us to develop a very multifaceted and profound arc of suspense for the FICHTNER Talks.

Together with Minister Untersteller, I initiated the roadmap for smart grids in Baden-Württemberg in 2012, which led to the environment ministry’s annual smart grids event in Fellbach and to the C/sells project which is very actively supported by the environment ministry.

Spring 2020: The parallel sessions planned for the afternoon will examine the practical aspects of zero emission strategies and their impacts. Co-moderators Andreas Höfler, Dr. Florian Klumpp and Manuel Landgrebe provided a prominent lineup for each of “their” sessions and thus contributed to the overall program’s high level of sophistication.

Program flyer for FICHTNER Talks 2020 in Villa Levi

March/April 2020: A previously unknown player enters the stage: corona.

Summer 2020: We change our plans and turn the in-person event into an online event. The program is compressed into half a day, and the venue is switched from Villa Levi to our head office. I talk to our speakers about their roles and coordinate their messages: Franz Untersteller MdL, Baden-Württemberg’s Minister of the Environment, Climate Protection and the Energy Sector, who has to make political decisions by virtue of his office and thus centers his statements around practical feasibility. Prof. Dr. Dr. h.c. Christoph M. Schmidt, President of the RWI – Leibniz Institute for Economic Research, who as a renowned political advisor puts his faith in market forces. Scientist Michael Obersteiner, Director of the Environmental Change Institute at the University of Oxford, who highlights the long-term effects of our actions. My role as moderator is to carve out the common thread and to summarize it – despite the different starting points.

21 September 2020: Prof. Obersteiner calls from Vienna, which has just been declared an at-risk region. Since he is unable to attend, we decide to patch him in via video call.

25 September 2020: Everything runs smoothly from an organizational and technical perspective. The conference has content, charm and tangible results:

A carbon price would be a suitable guiding instrument to tap the power of market forces for “Zero Emissions”. Prof. Schmidt outlines this as follows: “A carbon price as a guiding instrument is not everything. But without a carbon price guiding instrument, everything is nothing.” In introducing a carbon price for the heating and transportation sectors from January 2021, Germany has taken a step in this direction. However, a steering effect will likely kick in only at substantially higher prices than at the starting price of €25 per ton of CO2.

All of the speakers agreed that no-one can accomplish the goal of “Zero Emissions” on their own. At 2.3%, Germany’s current share of global emissions is small. On a global scale, the emissions reduction that Germany can achieve on its own is therefore limited. Germany is nevertheless called upon to advocate for a consistent and comprehensive carbon price as a guiding instrument of the European Green Deal to usher in a new dawn of European and internationally negotiated climate policy – fully in keeping with the Paris Climate Accord. The fact that Germany currently holds the council presidency provides a helpful framework for this.

Professor Obersteiner pointed out that negative emissions will be required long-term in order to reduce the accumulated emissions load. The associated costs are huge, which is why the global community is called upon to act as soon as possible, given that the required expenditures would then be lower than the costs of pulling out all the stops at the last minute. Furthermore, “sustainability” covers not only the avoidance of CO2 emissions, but also the natural, social and economic capital, and therefore involves a conflict of objectives with respect to the allocation of scarce resources. Many questions therefore remained unanswered.

Recordings of the online event can be found at www.fichtnertalks.de. A report on the event will appear in the “Energiewirtschaftliche Tagesfragen” magazine in December.

Through this online event, we have managed to do groundwork that will benefit us in future Fichtner forums and FICHTNER Talks – with or without corona!

We are already planning the next FICHTNER Talks which will take place in September 2021 – hopefully with face-to-face contact again!

From Albrecht Reuter with warm thanks to our highly committed colleagues in the building services and IT departments!

The studio – our meeting room 319/20 is unrecognizable!