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“There’ll only be a widescale rethink once the costs really start to hurt and people are shown alternatives”

An interview with Steinbeis Entrepreneur and power engineering expert Dr.-Ing. Thomas Freitag

It’s easy to be critical of the “Greta effect,” but one thing’s for sure: The young climate activist has brought enormous publicity to climate change. Nonetheless, this will not be enough to bring about a long-term rethink in society and business, says Dr.-Ing. Thomas Freitag, Steinbeis Entrepreneur at the Steinbeis Transfer Center for Power and Environmental Engineering. His work at the center revolves around the development of complex energy concepts and energy management with the aim of minimizing energy requirements. He spoke with TRANSFER Magazine about the actual challenges we face in confronting climate change.

Hello Dr. Freitag. Managing energy resources responsibly is becoming an increasingly important issue for companies, but also for cities and local authorities. What do you see as the biggest challenges in this area?

One problem is that even in positions of decision-making you still find people who don’t believe anthropogenic climate change and the problems it will create for us in the future area actually real, or something shaped by civilization. In some cases, there’s a frightening lack of interest in these issues. Also, using energy resources responsibly is considered to be something that has financial implications. It’s difficult to implement projects when people approach business from a short-term perspective, or they think there are high costs, or there’s little potential to save money.

Very little has been done until now to tackle the consumption levels of existing properties, since the costs associated with energy-saving measures can’t be passed on to building occupants.

If the follow-on costs of generating energy from fossil fuels and nuclear energy were included in energy prices, they wouldn’t be as low as they are at the moment. But unfortunately most so-called eternity costs are still passed on to society as a whole, because they’re borne by the state.

Lots of companies are having to deal with the issue of energy saving at the moment, for both economic and environmental reasons. How would you recommend they approach this issue?

The first thing you should do is conduct a fundamental stocktaking exercise. There are some very lucrative subsidies out there, for a whole host of companies. My advice would be to bring competent experts on board who understand current technology, but also legal requirements. Time and again you see projects going badly in terms of financial viability or for technical reasons because they simply weren’t planned properly.

What do you believe can be done to answer growing international demand for energy, not just now but also in the future? Will it require a rethink in the economy and society?

The economy and society are extremely sluggish, so a change in thinking will only come about if other stakeholders impose drastic measures.

The carbon pricing system launched this year is a first good step in the right direction. But there’ll only be a widescale rethink once the costs really start to hurt and people are shown alternatives. Or we’ll just have to wait until climate change has such a big impact on us human beings that we’re forced to act. Unfortunately, our actions will then just amount to damage limitation.

Of course it’s crucial to use energy efficiently. But it also has to be acknowledged that our fundamental lifestyles do necessitate a certain degree of energy consumption.

Whether radically rethinking transportation systems and welfare is actually realistic is something I doubt at the moment. What would be important is that the leading industrialized nations work together and coordinate things to prevent the energy-intensive sectors of industry wandering off to other countries.

Of course meeting energy demands in a way that matches requirements is an important prerequisite for social prosperity. So inevitably, this will be more difficult if you have a heterogeneous energy system rather than a small number of large energy providers.

But as we can see from current developments, this is an issue that can be solved by control engineering.

What role does digital transformation play in this?

The last point I mentioned – coordinating the overall energy system, from controls to consumption – will only be possible with a certain degree of digitalization.


Dr.-Ing. Thomas Freitag (author)
Steinbeis Entrepreneur
Steinbeis Transfer Center Power and Environmental Engineering (Oelsnitz)