Fridays For Future: Climate strike in Hamburg

My name is Oona. I am 23, I am French and I study politics. I joined the World Future Council in May 2019 as an intern for the Future Policy Award 2019: Empowering Youth. A few days ago, I participated in the “Fridays For Future” march in Hamburg.

Report launch: Beyond Fire: How To Achieve Electric Cooking

On the eve of the biggest global “Fridays for Future” youth strike for climate, the World Future Council offers its strong support to the dedicated young people holding leaders accountable for their climate commitments. If we are to meet the 1.5°C target of the Paris agreement bold action needs to happen now.

Environment And Climate Change Emergency: Turning Words Into Action

On the eve of the biggest global “Fridays for Future” youth strike for climate, the World Future Council offers its strong support to the dedicated young people holding leaders accountable for their climate commitments. If we are to meet the 1.5°C target of the Paris agreement bold action needs to happen now.

Interview on the Energy Transition in Germany

„We need a citizen-oriented energy supply“

The energy transition can only succeed if energy supply is democratised. We talked to Uli Ahlke, head of the district office for climate protection and sustainability in Steinfurt (North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany), about success factors of community energy.

Citizens contribute significantly to the energy transition. Including farmers, individuals own about 42% of all renewable energy installations in Germany[2]. Unfortunately though, the German federal government does not support community energy sufficiently. At this point, local governments can make a decisive contribution to promoting community energy. The German District of Steinfurt, near the Dutch border, is setting an exemplary path. Its 24 municipalities with about 445,000 inhabitants aim to be energy self-sufficient through renewable energies by 2050 – with the greatest possible participation of the local population. Already today more than 60% of the electricity stems from renewables. We talked to Uli Ahlke, head of the district office for climate protection and sustainability, about strategies and possibilities for local authorities to support community energy, about dealing with national obstacles, and about the future of the energy transition.

Community Energy: Energy Transition

The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) Coalition for Action describes community energy as “the economic and operational participation and/or ownership by citizens or members of a defined community in a renewable energy project” – regardless of size and scope of the project.[1] Community energy is any combination of at least two of the following elements: Local stakeholders own more than half or all shares of a renewable energy project; voting control rests with a community-based organisation; and the majority of social and economic benefits are decentralised locally.

Engagement for community energy: Uli Ahlke is head of the district office for climate protection and sustainability in Steinfurt (North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany)

World Future Council: The district of Steinfurt aims to be energy self-sufficient through renewable energies by 2050. Supporting community energy is an integral part of your work. Why did you choose to support community energy to promote the expansion of renewables rather than focusing on large-scale investments?

Uli Ahlke: We have conducted several surveys in our region, and we know that the balance sheet energy self-sufficiency can only be accomplished once we operate in a regionally decentralised manner – and that it won’t work without the citizens. About 18 years ago, we experienced a very intensive expansion of wind energy with a lot of foreign investors in our region. At that time, we quickly reached acceptance limits.

We are convinced that we cannot achieve our ambitious goals without wind energy. That is why we asked ourselves what we need to do to maintain acceptance for a new expansion momentum. We needed to involve people in the planning process and to give the local community the opportunity to participate in local value creation. After all, the district of Steinfurt spends 1.5 billion euros a year on energy – for electricity, heat and mobility energy. Money we want to keep in the region.

How exactly can community energy be integrated into local climate action planning, and which participation mechanisms were particularly effective in Steinfurt?

What we do here is only possible because we have this team. We are 22 employees who take charge of the region’s sustainable development, of rural development, climate protection and education for sustainable development. Structurally, we consolidated the whole procedure last year and founded an association – the “energieland2050”. We communicate through traditional media, but are increasingly active in social media; we organise broad-scale participation proceedings; we place a strong focus on the regional advantages; and we have many amplifiers, especially on the part of the wind farmers.

As part of the wind energy expansion, we have set guidelines for all upcoming civic wind farms – in cooperation with the property owners, i.e. the farmers, with the farmers’ association, the municipal utilities and our 24 mayors. These guidelines not only guarantee the involvement of citizens, but also ensure that the first focal point for loans are local banks, and for energy marketing the municipal utilities. For the recruitment of financial resources through public participation we organised three events for one wind farm alone, attended by around 900 people. Two weeks later, we had 30 million euros, although we only needed 15.

In 2011, we set up a “Wind Energy Service Station”. There, we have a colleague, who deals with conflict management. She talks to the people and seeks solutions with them whenever there is a problem. We also launched a “Wind Energy Round Table”, where we regularly invite all stakeholders involved in wind energy to address conflicts openly and transparently.

Round table discussions for solving conflicts

But wind energy is just one piece of the puzzle. Our goal is to initiate climate action in the region, involving more and more people. Many people trust us; that we practice what we preach, that we do things well, and that we act in accordance with the Agenda 21[3]. But that did not come out of the blue – it emerged over the years, during which people got to know each other, and learned to trust each other. I also believe that sustainability and regionalism are closely interlinked because we give up anonymity and work with people we know.

I agree with you. How do you deal with national legal and regulatory obstacles to citizen-owned renewable energy installations at the local level, such as the 2017 Renewable Energies Act (EEG) Amendment[4]?

I believe that the energy transition can only succeed if there is – in Hermann Scheer’s words – the “democratisation of energy supply”. The 2017 EEG Amendment, however, weakened the community energy movement. The reason for this weakening is presumably an energy policy that is geared towards corporations. But we need a policy that is citizen-oriented. The corporation-oriented policy actually prevents a successful energy transition. I am following Berlin’s energy policy with concern. If we do not change course very quickly, we will certainly miss the 2-degree target.

The approach we chose in Steinfurt is characterised by our energetic imperative “regional – decentralised – CO2-neutral”. This is supported and accompanied by the “energieland2050 network of entrepreneurs”. Only responsible companies from the region are involved in this network.

A study by the Leuphana University of Lüneburg has shown that the main obstacle to initiate community energy projects are the availability of equity capital and access to vacant space for renewable energy installations like wind turbines. How can local authorities help in these areas?

At the beginning, we conducted a study to identify our potentials for the wind energy expansion. We must not forget that our region is not particularly suitable for wind energy; we are not a coastal region and are partially suburbanised. On the basis of the potential study, we developed the guidelines for civic wind energy together with the farmers’ association, the mayors and many other stakeholders. This accelerated the expansion of wind energy. We implemented the wind energy expansion with regional stakeholders and did not rely on any external project planner or consultant. The expansion was also largely financed from the region – from its citizens, and its local banks. This is a relatively unique approach in Germany.

Construction of the bioenergy park Saerbeck

When we started to address wind energy with some actors in 2010 and even approached it strategically, people were very sceptical. And today I look back very relaxed and say: It worked!

I am glad to hear that. Let us now come to the last question. You have been working with passion for many years in this area. Which advice can you give to people in local governments not to lose patience and confidence in their work for renewables and citizen participation?

What you need is perseverance, patience and the faculty of abstraction. Human beings are often too impatient and cannot imagine the world changing but it is changing faster than ever. I think that in order to win people it is not enough to have good arguments, but it is important to draw a picture, a future scenario, of where you want to go and how positive the future can look like. At the end of my speeches, I often show a picture of the district of Steinfurt, which says: “District of Steinfurt – 24 health resorts”. If the energy transition succeeds, we will breathe clean air and it will be quieter. So if it succeeds, and I suppose that it does succeed at least partially, then life becomes more enjoyable and we get out of the air pollution dilemma which we are in now.

Interview conducted by Nele Kress.


[1] IRENA Coalition for Action (2018). Community Energy. Broadening the Ownership of Renewables. (28.08.2018).

[2] Agentur für Erneuerbare Energien (2018). Bürgerenergie bleibt Schlüssel für erfolgreiche Energiewende. (28.08.2018).

[3] Agenda 21 is a comprehensive plan of action to be taken globally, nationally and locally by organisations of the United Nations system, governments, and major groups in every area in which human beings impact on the environment. It was adopted by 172 governments at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992.

[4] The Renewable Energies Act (EEG), which came into force for the first time in 2000, is the central control instrument for the expansion of renewable energies in the field of electricity in Germany. The fundamental changes of the last major amendment to the EEG in 2017 relate to compulsory direct marketing and a fundamental system change from the feed-in tariff model to the tendering procedure. This model has been criticized for failing to meet the climate protection goals of the Paris Agreement and for discriminating against community energy projects.

Clearing the Air in India with the fresh breeze of biomass technology

Every year India struggles with natural conditions of drifting dust from the desert Thar[1] which are aggravated by human impact[2] and lead to environmentally, socially and economically costly air pollution. With the enabling policy framework, a proven technology could be part of a feasible scheme tackling all anthropogenic drivers at once – and ideally lead to a reduction of air pollution by up to 90%. 

Starting a few months ago, India’s North has made headlines when air pollution reached an air quality index (AQI) of 1,001[3] – exceeding safe levels by a multitude of ten. In the national Capital Region of Delhi alone 45 million people[4] have been affected, causing a spike in complaints of respiratory problems and an emergency state, declared by the Indian Medical Association.[5]

Even though the news around the topic subsided, the officially monitored AQI which are even higher in the proximity of roads[6] within major cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Hyderabad and Kolkata, continue to range around hazardous levels[7]. Inhalation of this air is comparable to smoking several packs of cigarettes a day[8] [9] and serious respiratory effects in the general population can be expected while even putting susceptible groups at risk of premature death[10].

Figure 1: Haze over North India in late 2017. (Source: NASA, 2017)

The death toll of air pollution in India was the highest of all countries around the world with 2,5 million in 2015.[11] A global UNICEF study found recently, that over 90% of children are breathing polluted air not matching WHO guidelines and 17 million infants are exposed to levels six times the approved norms.[12] Furthermore, household air pollution was recently discovered to be insalubrious even before birth, reducing birth weight, pregnancy duration and doubling perinatal mortality[13]. This effect is owed to the burning of traditional fuels which exposes mostly women to pulmonary and vision hazards of indoor air pollution.[14]

A study conducted by the World Bank concluded: The negative health impact of outdoor air pollution alone costs India 3% of its GDP[15] which translates to an equivalent loss of roughly 35 billion Euros every year. Research found a direct impact of the atmospheric pollution on agriculture with wheat yields of 2010 being on average up to 36% lower than usual all over India due to reduced intensity of sunlight and toxic ozone reaching the plants.[16] Additionally, increased amounts of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere[17] contribute to the greenhouse effect leading to more extreme and destructive weather events.

Two main causes for a myriad of manmade emission sources

In agricultural areas such as Punjab, the breadbasket of India, which singlehandedly produces 20% of India’s wheat and 10% of its rice[18], smoke blankets rise seasonally for several weeks despite a governmental ban when leftover straw stubble from mechanical harvesting is burned openly in the fields to clean the soil for new seeding [19] (see fig. 2).

Large-scale crop burning in India in 2017. (Source: Propakistani, 2016)

Then, metropolitan areas are covered by the drifting haze of crop burning in addition to the smoke of millions of wood cook stoves in and outside of the urban areas as well as countless emitters of sulfates, nitrates and black carbon such as automobiles, coal-fired power plants, incinerators, smelters or brick kilns.[20]

A comparison of several studies of Delhi shows the difficulty of solving the problem due to the relatively equal share of the main human-made sources of urban air pollution: Open burning of garbage and other diffused emitters contribute on average about a quarter, domestic or biomass burning as well as dust ranges around 15% while both traffic and industry (including coal power plants) are responsible for approximately one third.[21] [22]

However, understanding the reasons of air pollution, the interconnectedness of land and city and the amplification of fog and aerosol hazes[23] permits a vision for a future of clear skies and fresh breath. The main detrimental causes showed to be unsolvable if tackled one by one which is demonstrated by governmental emergency measures falling short every year.

Multiplying the negative causes turns into a feasible opportunity

The usually unused agricultural leftover biomass like paddy straw suddenly becomes an additional source of income for farmers as it already begins to prove itself as a viable source for power generation in rural India, offering employment for thousands of people. The calorific value per kilogram of coal and paddy straw are comparable while it burns cleanly in boilers with an efficiency as high as 99%. Combustion technology is commercialized and alone in the state of Punjab 332.5 MW of agro-waste based power projects are planned.[24]

These power plants can sell their power due to the “New & Renewable Sources of Energy Policy” and generate income under a Clean Development Mechanism while suppling millions of kWh to the grid for years. [25] Even individual households value the significant financial benefit of a carbon credit scheme which earns them up to 500 Rupees per month in a pilot project and convinces them to maintain the use of improved cook stoves.[26]

There are numerous reasons aside from health benefits for extending the understanding of sustainable cooking beyond improved cook stoves[27]. A new one is provided by a recent study, that noted villagers truly wish for cooking like in the cities – preferably with LPG which is out of reach for many due to its higher costs compared to wood.[28]  The so-called producer gas of low-cost straw-based power plants is an ideal replacement of a cleanly burning fuel, reducing indoor air pollution significantly in poor or disconnected rural and urban households alike.

Moreover, the processing of biomass and organic waste opens the opportunity of bio-oil production which can be handled exactly like a petroleum-based product to power suited diesel generators and fuel traffic in the cities.[29] This not only reduces transport emissions greatly but adds value to the commonly high share of organic waste (~30%) in Indian cities[30], attracting the informal sector in waste collection and reducing open garbage burning.

If now the government would take a leap forward by providing legislative support for this scheme in a holistic framework and additionally phase out coal power plants, manmade air pollution could ideally be reduced by roughly up to 90% through counteracting the aforementioned emission sources. In addition to environmental and social health improvements, the positive economic impact would be substantial: An IRENA study estimated a total benefit of 59 to 224 billion USD in savings following a restructuring of the power sector.[31] India’s INDC target of 40% renewable energy in 2030 is a promising step into the right direction.[32]


– written by Lisa Harseim –


100% renewable energy and poverty reduction in Tanzania

The World Future Council, Bread for the World and CAN-Tanzania hosted a workshop in February Dar es Salaam, Tanzania to kick-off an 18-months project, aiming at exploring the feasibility of 100% RE targets and its implications for Tanzania’s Sustainable Low Carbon Development and Poverty Reduction Goals.

The climate cost of 100% renewable energy

At the COP 21 in Paris, the international community agreed on an agenda to cut greenhouse gas emissions to a level that will limit the rise in average global temperatures to 1.5°C. On 5 October 2016, the threshold for entry into force of the Paris Agreement was achieved. For a likely chance to stay below a rise of 1.5C, we have to reach zero emissions by 2050.

Energy Remunicipalisation: How Hamburg is buying back energy grids

On September 22 2013, 50.9% of the Hamburg citizens voted in a referendum for the full remunicipalisation of the energy distribution grids in the city. The referendum was initiated by the citizen’s initiative ‘Our Hamburg – Our Grid’ (OHOG) and constituted the climax of an intense political controversy that lasted for more than three years. Through this vote Hamburg has received international attention and became a flagship example for remarkable civil engagement. In the international best-seller “This Changes Everything” (2014), Naomi Klein sees the driving motive in the people’s ‘desire for local power’. Indeed it is true that under the constitution of the City of Hamburg, a successful referendum has a binding effect, which left the City government no other option than to announce the implementation of the referendum decision and to start the remunicipalisation process immediately after the vote. Now, three years after the referendum, it is time to evaluate what has been achieved so far. A series of interviews with key actors that were and, for the most part, still are involved in the remunicipalisation process shed some light on the remunicipalisation process and recent developments.

The Way towards the Referendum

„The first E-Mail came from you“, they say about Gilbert Siegler, who started the gathering of a broad spectrum of environmental, civil and church organisations back in 2010 that would later become the citizens’ initiative “Our Hamburg – Our Grid” (OHOG). For many of the activists, such as the leading campaigner of the initiative, Wiebke Hansen, the remunicipalisation question quickly became a “matter of the heart” and proxy to tackle climate change effectively by directly achieving access to the energy sector, putting the issue into the overall context of intergenerational justice.

Privatisation of the energy grids was a decision that according to the current Senator for Environment and Energy, Jens Kerstan, had soon been severely regretted by many members across all parties and led to a “loss in political influence and the possibility to steer” within the energy sector.

The momentum was opportune. The anti-nuclear movement had just achieved a great success, mobilising 120 000 people protesting against the plans of the Federal Government to prolong the runtime of the German nuclear power plants, with the formation of a 120km long human chain between the two nuclear power plants Brunsbüttel and Krümmel. The chain also queued through the inner City of Hamburg, this event and the upcoming expiry of the concession agreements provided a fertile ground for the activists in the city to merge into the initiative that would three years later achieve the great success of winning the referendum on the remunicipalisation of the energy distribution grid.

At the end of the 1990s and beginning of the 20th century, the City of Hamburg privatised its energy distribution grids of electricity, gas and district heating – a decision that according to the current Senator for Environment and Energy, Jens Kerstan, had soon been severely regretted by many members across all parties and led to a “loss in political influence and the possibility to steer” within the energy sector.

However, despite this realisation the Senate led by the Social Democratic Party (SPD) under First Mayor Olaf Schloz were merely willing to buy back a blocking minority of 25.1% from the private energy utilities E.ON and Vattenfall owning the energy distribution grids in 2011. While Olaf Scholz and the City Government believed that this deal would allow sufficient control over the private network operators, OHOG, energy experts and even SPD members were not convinced that 25.1% are enough to achieve a proactive and progressive energy policy for Hamburg, including a decisive implementation of the Energiewende and an active engagement in climate mitigation by shifting towards renewable energies.

Instead the citizens’ initiative’s referendum text stipulated a more ambitious goal, which is separated below into the two core targets:

 “The Hamburg Senate and City Parliament are undertaking all necessary and legitimate steps in a timely manner, in order to

  • fully remunicipalise the Hamburg electricity, district heating and gas distribution grid in 2015.
  • The mandatory target is a socially just, climate-friendly and democratically controlled energy supply from renewable sources.”

At the beginning, the citizens’ initiative received broad approval in their intention to bring the energy distribution grids back into the public hand. One reason of OHOG’s success certainly was its heterogeneous composition that reflected society at large. Another was the initiative’s unifying assumption, which was also most tangible to the majority of Hamburg’s citizens despite the complexity of the topic: energy services are a matter of the common good and must not become object to the maxim of profit maximisation.

Yet, until the Election Day the outcome of the referendum was uncertain mainly due to the massive opposition forming up against OHOG, led by the political parties of SPD, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and the Liberal Party (FDP) and numerous organisations of trade and industry, such as the Chamber of Commerce, and of course the energy utilities Vattenfall and E.ON themselves. This led to a clear asymmetry in power and resources between the Yes and No campaign in the run up to the referendum. Manfred Braasch, managing director of Friends of the Earth Germany (BUND) in Hamburg and one of the leading lights of OHOG estimates the ratio of available resources with 1:100: “So we had one Euro and they at least a hundred to place respective ads, print material, etc.” Another former member of OHOG, Dirk Seifert, illustratively recollects that each member of the citizens’ initiative was becoming “increasingly nervous […], since you walk through Hamburg and see with what public advertising force these companies [Vattenfall and E.ON] can cover the whole city […]. The evening the votes were counted was nerve-racking […] but in the end we could relax and had won.”

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Implementation of the Referendum and Status Quo

Target 1) was tackled directly after the referendum decision. Representatives of the City Government immediately started to negotiate the re-purchase conditions of the energy distribution networks with the suppliers Vattenfall and E.ON.

In February 2014, Vattenfall and the City of Hamburg reached an agreement over the purchase of the 27,000 kilometre long electricity distribution grid for the total price of 550 million Euros. The transition from shifting Vattenfall shares into municipal ownership was eventually completed in April 2016 by maintaining the entire workforce. This also proofed the concerns of the workers union IG Metall before the referendum as groundless. The IG Metall, according to its First Representative Ina Morgenroth, positioned itself against the remunicipalisation as pursued by OHOG, expecting political commitments to not put employment at stake that nobody could give. In the first year, the electricity grid operation generated a total benefit of 34.5 million Euros for the city. Essential restructuring and investments let the benefits sink towards around 6 million Euros in 2015. In this context, the numbers of 2016 can be awaited eagerly to allow a more accurate assessment whether the remunicipalisation of the electricity grid also generates the expected monetary benefits for Hamburg. The negotiations over the gas distribution grid between E.ON and the City of Hamburg dragged on until December 2014. Eventually, both parties came to an agreement that would allow the city a repurchase of the gas grids in 2018 for a total price of 355.4 million Euros.

In general, the constitution of this new instrument for democratic control of the energy distribution grid is seen as an unprecedented innovation, giving Hamburg a unique opportunity to make questions of energy policy subject to a wide-ranging debate throughout society.

What remains uncertain is the remunicipalisation of the district heating distribution network that provides about 440.000 residential units with heat and is the most energy intensive and valuable energy distribution grid. Similar to the gas distribution grid, the City Government merely negotiated a purchase option for the year 2019 with Vattenfall. Due to the constitutional level of a referendum decision its implementation should merely be a matter of political decency. However, there are uncertainties regarding a repurchase of district heating, since members of Hamburg’s political sphere are already looking for a way out to avoid the expensive repurchase of the district heating grid for a fixed minimum purchase price of 950 million Euro, arguing that such a financial risk is incompatible with the budgetary regulations of the Hamburg City State. Yet, the former members of the initiative OHOG remain confident that a remunicipalisation will eventually be carried out by the City Government, since the political risk of defying the people’s decision is too high. Furthermore, essential practicalities still require clarification and foresight even though the City does not own the district heating grid yet. This mainly refers to the question of how to substitute an old coal power plant in Hamburg’s west with renewable sources to fulfil target 1)’s requirements of the referendum decision. So far, the power plant still provides a great share of the city’s heating demand through cogeneration of heat and electricity from coal. Clean alternatives for heat production from renewable sources are still explored by Hamburg’s State Ministry for the Environment and Energy in feasibility analyses and until now decisions are still pending.

In general, the constitution of this new instrument for democratic control of the energy distribution grid is seen as an unprecedented innovation, giving Hamburg a unique opportunity to make questions of energy policy subject to a wide-ranging debate throughout society.

Target 2) certainly constituted an even greater challenge for the City Government, as it requires a clear definition of what is meant by the stipulation of a ‘socially just, climate-friendly and democratically controlled energy supply from renewable energies’. Particularly the question whether to interpret ‘democratic control’ literally – as a direct control mechanism – or merely as an instrument for a consultative involvement, necessitated intensive discussions. The consultations on this question was facilitated by the Environmental Committee of the Hamburg City Parliament and carried out under the participation of a broad range of stakeholders, including representatives from environmental organisations, business and industry as well as employee representatives.

Ultimately, in February 2016, energy senator Jens Kerstan announced the formation of an Energy Advisory Board, which was integrated in the Energy Agency at the City’s Departmental Authority for the Environment and Energy. Members of this new Board include a broad range of 20 representatives from society, science, business, industry and most importantly all local grid companies, also including Vattenfall and E.ON, which still remain main shareholders of the district heating and gas distribution grid until the purchase options has been exercised. The board meets at least twice a year and already in 2016 there have been meetings in April, June and September, as well as an internal meeting in July. Each official meeting of the Energy Advisory Board is open to the public, giving citizens the opportunity to ask questions or to bring forward written proposals.

In general, the constitution of this new instrument for democratic control of the energy distribution grid is seen as an unprecedented innovation, giving Hamburg a unique opportunity to make questions of energy policy subject to a wide-ranging debate throughout society. However, the main challenge remains in form of the actual influence the Advisory Board should have on grid-related decision-making. While some members seek direct rights to also co-determine corporate decisions of the city-owned energy distribution grid company ‘Hamburg Energienetze GmbH’ (HEG), other members of the board merely want to limit the influence of the board to an advisory function. This basically constitutes a continuum that requires a well-balanced compromise in order to avoid the board becoming a toothless tiger or inefficient committee, slowing down the remunicipalisation process through limiting the HEG’s ability and pace in operative actions.

Remunicipalisation as essential Element of the Energiewende

The major question, not only in Hamburg, certainly is to what extent a municipally managed energy distribution grids can contribute to a successful implementation of the Energiewende. The majority of the interviewees (even two former opponents of the remunicipalisation) agree that a municipalised grid provides direct access and the ability to act in favour of shaping the Energiewende. Primarily, this refers to grid-related investment decisions or the reinvestments of profits from the grid management. Regarding these investments in the electricity distribution grid, Alexander Heieis, former chairman of the works committee at Vattenfall and now employed at Stromnetz Hamburg, the municipal electricity distribution grid company, perceives a major difference between the latter and his former employer: “If Vattenfall would have remained owner of the electricity grid […] it would have been more difficult [for Vattenfall] to carry out these investments in same way, as they are already foreseen by today.” Heieis explains this difference in pace and extent of investments with a missing understanding of the Energiewende at the management level of Vattenfall. Other interviewees see another major difference in this context, stating that a publicly-owned energy distribution grid company is detached from the maxim of utility or profit maximisation and instead perceives the performance of its task rather as a public service to the common good.

Expert reports are carried out at the moment to determine the actual potential the city provides regarding district heating. For instance, possible alternative renewable heat supply could be generated from waste incineration plants, waste wood or industrial waste heat. Nevertheless, whether Hamburg could cover its entire heat demand from renewable energy remains a major challenge and needs decisive political action.

In terms of grid-specific properties, the district heating distribution grid, so far mainly running on coal, is crucial to successfully implementing the Energiewende. As natural monopoly, district heating is not obliged to the principle of unbundling, describing the separation of the network operator and energy supplier. Hence, ownership over the district heating grid means to not only own the grid, but also decide over the source of energy. In Hamburg the energy sources for the district heating are planned to be shifted towards renewables on the long term. Expert reports are carried out at the moment to determine the actual potential the city provides in this regard. For instance, possible alternative renewable heat supply could be generated from waste incineration plants, waste wood or industrial waste heat. Nevertheless, whether Hamburg could cover its entire heat demand from renewable energy remains a major challenge and needs decisive political action.

Hamburg – Quo vadis?

So far, Hamburg can be considered on track in implementing the referendum decision. However, key challenges remain unsolved. In particular, the repurchase of the district heating grid is still uncertain, but would be crucial for further implementing the Energiewende, while also decisively contributing to Hamburg meeting its climate mitigation targets in 2030. A failure in this regard would be irreversible with no possible prospect of a second attempt to repurchase the district heating distribution grid from Vattenfall in the near future, putting the Energiewende and climate protection at stake. Dirk Seifert, former member of OHOG and a representative in the Energy Advisory Board yet remains optimistic, noticing that since the referendum “the opportunities and obligations for the Hamburg Senate and City Parliament have grown tremendously, while it nevertheless remains a political struggle to ensure that these are implemented through institutions and forms of public participation […]. It is our task to push and press in this regard.”

Seizing the Solar Energy Revolution in Tanzania

When Ajuna Kagaruki and her husband built their new house in Mabwepande, a suburb of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania, it was not an option to wait for the government to connect the area to the national grid. Instead, they decided to take action themselves in order to have electricity for their life with the three children. Today, a 120 kwh Solar Home System (SHS) lights the house, powers a TV and an iron and charges their mobile phones.

A. Kagaruki in front of her house with SHS. Image by Carmen Rosa

A. Kagaruki in front of her house with SHS. Image by Carmen Rosa.

“When we moved in here, there was no electricity. That was hard. My children were bored and the two older ones could sometimes not finish their homework in the evening.” Ajuna Kagaruki is 35 years old, works as a social welfare officer and on top of that, just accomplished her Master’s degree. Her husband is a lawyer. “Even though we had a nice house, we could not enjoy family life here, because it was dark when we all got home.” With this experience, Ajuna Kagaruki and her family are not alone in their country. In Tanzania, only 26% of households have access to the national grid. And only 11% of people in rural areas and 40% in urban areas have access to electricity at all.

Ajuna Kagaruki and her family changed this situation for themselves. A few months ago, they decided to buy a Solar Home System (SHS). While Ajuna knew about the technology before, she wasn’t convinced to install it, because she heard a lot of stories about bad services and technical problems. This situation is also very common in Tanzania. As there is a lack of expertise for the technology, a lack of trained employees as well as no quality standards for solar equipment, many installations fail or need intense maintenance. However, Ajuna Kagaruki came across one company, who was supposed to offer good and reliable after-sales service. “When the Mobisol technician explained me how the system worked, I was surprised how easy it is. I can actually handle it myself and if I need support, there is always a team to contact.”

A. Kagaruki and her daughter in front of the TV and solar battery. Image by Carmen Rosa

A. Kagaruki and her daughter in front of the TV and solar battery. Image by Carmen Rosa.

Mobisol was founded 5 years ago, starting in Arusha in 2011. In 2013, the company had hired 30 people and 500 customers across Tanzania. Today there are about 400 employees in the country (about 200 sale agents, 150 local technicians, training technicians and assemblers) and 37.000 customers. All employees are trained by Mobisol in their academy centers is Arusha, Mwanza and Mbeya. “Especially finding good sales agents is difficult. Technicians, we usually find through universities or vocational trainings”, says one Mobisol staff member. The SHS are designed for households and small commercial use and are based on a rent-to-own idea: After a down payment of 8%, the customer makes a monthly payment for a maximum of three years. If a customer does not pay the monthly rate, which is done through M-Pesa, the system is locked down. When the full amount is paid off, the customer owns the system and produces electricity for free.

While Ajuna knew about the technology before, she wasn’t convinced to install it, because she heard a lot of stories about bad services and technical problems. This situation is also very common in Tanzania. As there is a lack of expertise for the technology, a lack of trained employees as well as no quality standards for solar equipment, many installations fail or need intense maintenance.

Ajuna Kagaruki’s 120 kwh SHS costed the family 163.000 TZS (about 76 USD) for the upfront payment and about 70.000 TZS (about 32 USD) for the monthly payment. “I am enjoying the light in the evening, watching TV and having a charged mobile phone whenever I need it. My older kids can do homework also at home and sometimes they even bring their friends to play after school.”

The Tanzanian government is aware of the fact that energy is the prerequisite for development. “We want to tackle the challenges that so many people in our country are facing every day,” says Doto Mashaka Biteko, Member of the Tanzanian Parliament and Chair of the Energy and Minerals Committee. “Therefore, the government is aiming to provide access to 50% of the population by 2020.”  And Mwanahamisi Athumani Munkuda, Clerk to the Parliamentary Committee Energy and Minerals adds: “The parliament has allocated 53% of the national development budget – which is about 1.13 trillion TZ Schilling – for energy issues.”

Watching a TV running on solar power. Image by Carmen Rosa

Watching a TV running on solar power. Image by Carmen Rosa.

The National Energy Plan from 2015 unveils how this should be achieved and what the money should be spent for. “In fact, looking at the government’s strategy for enhancing access to electricity, it is mainly about expanding the national grid,” says Sixbert Mwanga, Head of Climate Action Network Tanzania (CAN Tanzania). “However, renewable energies provide a unique window of opportunity to transform the electricity production and supply of Tanzania. Examples from across the world actually show that a decentralized approach, based on off-grid and on-grid solutions, is much cheaper and delivers faster.” CAN Tanzania, in cooperation with the World Future Council and Bread for the World, is currently developing policy recommendations for transiting to 100% Renewable Energy as a mean to reduce poverty in the country.

Ajuna Kagaruki shares this experience: “The government says that the national grid will be extended to our area within the next 3 years. But I couldn’t wait that long to have electricity for my family. And now, even if we get connected to the grid, I would continue with our SHS, because by then, I will produce my electricity for free.”


Anna Leidreiter, Senior Programme Manager – Climate, Energy and Cities, World Future Council

Irene García, Policy Officer, Climate, Energy and Cities, World Future Council

Six priorities for Sponge Cities

International and Chinese experts got together in Beijing to discuss Sponge Cities in China and its relevant policy recommendations. But what can we actually learn from the discussion? Here are 6 key priorities that emerged.

The second session of the World Future Council Future of Cities Salons series was held in Beijing on 26th April 2016. The event titled China-Germany Dialogue on the Sponge City: Resilient and Regenerative allowed Chinese and international experts to come together and discuss the concept of the Sponge City in front of several members of the local press. The concept of the Sponge City has gained particular attention in China as an attempt to define an effective model to tackle, among other issues, the increase in inner city floods experienced by many cities in China. Extreme weather events, such as more intensive rainstorms, are actually expected to become increasingly frequent as a direct effect of climate change. Hence the urgency to find effective ways to deal with this growing risk.

Essentially, the Sponge city is designed to act pretty much like a sponge in the sense that during rainstorms it allows surfaces throughout the city to absorb as much water as possible. Currently cities are mostly impermeable systems that divert water into sewage drainages which often channel untreated water directly into local rivers (especially during high intensity rainstorms as only part of the water can be handled by the wastewater treatment infrastructure).  By regenerating and expanding its own freshwater eco-systems (rivers, lakes, urban wetlands, gardens, parks etc.) the Sponge city allows storm water to be absorbed by the soil, which also naturally purifies it and stores it as groundwater. This reduces the burden on urban sewage systems, and during extreme weather events, improves the capacity of the city to absorb water and as such decreases the risk of flooding.

Six Priorities for the creation of Sponge Cities

While the urgency to transform our cities into Sponge cities is increasingly clearer, key policy guidelines to facilitate and encourage the creation of Sponge cities remain to be defined. Below are the 6 key recommendations that emerged during the discussions.

  1. Adopt an integrated, whole-system thinking approach

During the discussion, all experts emphasized that sponge cities are not only about recycling rainwater, improving water management or simply preventing floods. As Professor Che Wu from the Department of Civil Engineering and Architecture of Beijing University pointed out, “The sponge city must achieve the goal of protecting water environment, water ecology, water resources and water security at the same time”. On the same line of thought, Mr. Li Hailong, Deputy Director of Eco-city Planning & Building Center of Chinese Society for Urban Studies, concluded that

“sponge city is about approaching the issues of natural protection, restoration and design of cities from the water regeneration perspective and from a macro-understanding of sponge cities”.

In essence, it is not about isolated solutions but about finding integrated, cross-sectoral solutions grounded on the understanding of the city as a whole, organic, integrated system embedded in its natural environment and its water ecosystem.

  1. Establish locally based laws and regulations

As pointed out by Professor Che, the construction of sponge cities is facing multiple challenges in China. The first major challenge is legislation. Without sound laws and regulations, the water issue cannot be solved effectively.  Professor Che is very much interested in learning more from other countries on this matter especially from the relevant legislations in Germany and the EU. Currently many new developments in Germany are not allowed to discharge sewage free of charge.  The question is whether this kind of charge-based model need the support of laws and who should be in charge of setting these regulations and charges (the city, the region or the national government?) In Germany, these kinds of regulation are mandated by local municipal governments and not by federal authorities.  These local legislations are formulated according to local conditions, therefore may vary considerably depending on the city. According to specific locally-based problems, every city will calculate the cost on the disposal of wastewater. Adopting local taxation based on sound local regulation is therefore warranted.

  1. Promote coordinated cooperation between city departments

Another key element essential for the effective implementation of sponge cities is coordination between different departments. Both Professor Che Wu and Mr. Li Hailong pointed out that the construction of a sponge city project in China needs the coordination of different departments, including the department of Water Resources, Environmental Protection and several other city departments. Furthermore during the construction phase, various types of data (such as weather data, geological data, etc.) also need to be gathered from different departments and need good coordination and communication across teams. Still, strongly separated departments pose a significant barrier to the effective and smooth functioning of this needed integrated, cross-silo approach.

  1. Find Innovative ways to raise financial resources at the city level

Funding and financing problems are an inevitable part of city planning and construction. Mr. Li Hailong analyzed in depth China´s plans to develop sponge city through Public-Private-Partnerships (PPP). However, such model can only bring limited benefits and can only attract a few companies, which unavoidably causes funding difficulty. All of the speakers highlighted that China should adopt a model which takes into consideration the different local conditions, and cannot view PPP as the only funding way. Different cities should select different economic strategies concerning their varied natural conditions and economic situations.

  1. Tailor the design to local conditions and regional potential

A careful assessment of local conditions and potential should form the base of any sponge city intervention. It is essential to carefully assess specific problems in the city and solve these by leveraging the local potential and regional resources. Standard conceptual recommendations for the development of sponge cities are applicable more or less to any climate and soil, hwoever the selection of specific interventions should be based on local conditions. Professor Che Wu compared sponge city projects in different areas of China and concluded that “China implemented many similar projects over the past 20 years following the same concept but using different implementation strategies in different projects. An implementation strategy might prove very successful with certain types of building and soil conditions, but cannot be transferred in a standardized way to another context, as it might not prove as successful as local conditions change”.

  1. Improve international dialogue and exchange of best practices: “foreign stones may serve to polish domestic jade”

Many best practices are available from where we can learn. An open dialogue and exchange of solutions across cities worldwide will be essential to accelerate the transition and the spreading of most effective solutions. The challenges discussed in the salon can only be tackled within an environment of continuous learning based on sharing of experiences and tested solutions.  Only through such sharing and active learning effort we can promote effective development of sponge cities in China.


Filippo Boselli, Policy Officer, Climate, Energy and CIties, World Future Council, Germany

Zhou Ying, Communication and Operations Officer, World Future Council, China