Energy policy “Driven by ideology” – The uncompromising climate protector
Berlin Patrick Graichen has been one of the most sought-after people in the Federal Ministry of Economics for months – both internally and externally. Because the Secretary of State for Economic Affairs is pulling the strings in the restructuring of the energy supply system.
Whether it’s acute crisis management in the wake of the Ukraine war or the expansion of renewables – Graichen steers and directs, and sometimes he overshoots the mark. At the moment he has to ensure that the Building Energy Act (GEG) is brought to the cabinet stage. This turns out to be one of his greatest challenges.
Because the GEG draft from the Ministries of Economics and Construction, which was leaked a few weeks ago, caused a lot of outrage within the coalition and far beyond. There is talk of climate policy with a crowbar.
Graichen’s boss Robert Habeck has to spend a lot of energy trying to calm things down. The Economics Minister is trying to downplay problems with generous funding commitments.
The design, which is the subject of so much debate, bears Graichen’s handwriting: the electric heat pump is elevated to the only option that will make you happy. Graichen has good arguments on his side. But its rigor, the planned end for new oil and gas heating systems, causes irritation.
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As head of the Agora Energiewende think tank, Graichen was able to shine with coherent concepts that never had to pass the practical test. Today, the state secretary is fighting hard to achieve his goals.
Negotiating partners perceive it as dogmatic
Some negotiating partners perceive him as dogmatic, unyielding and sometimes not very conciliatory. And not just behind closed doors.
Graichen’s performance at the Handelsblatt municipal utility conference in May last year became legendary. At the time, Graichen recommended that the gas network operators start planning for the “dismantling” of their networks, because by 2045 “there will of course be no more gas in the networks”.
That remark lingered for a long time. A representative of the gas industry accused him of being “driven by ideology”. The Association of Municipal Enterprises (VKU), in which the municipal utilities have merged, criticized Graichen’s comment as “not expedient”. The gas network infrastructure is worth hundreds of billions of euros and could also “play an important role” in climate-neutral energy supply, for example by supplying green hydrogen.
Behind this lies a fundamental dispute in which Graichen has played a clear role for years. He firmly takes the position that electrification is the most important solution on the way to climate neutrality.
Graichen wants nothing to do with transitions and interim solutions
Wherever possible, electricity from renewable sources should replace fossil fuels because it is much more efficient. This applies to e-cars as well as to electric heat pumps.
Hydrogen should only be used where there is absolutely no alternative according to the current state of technology, for example in the basic industry, in air and shipping traffic or for the operation of reserve power plants, which are always used when the wind isn’t blowing or the sun isn’t appears.
In principle, many should share Graichen’s position – but not nearly as uncompromisingly. Because there are transitions and interim solutions, special needs and applications that Graichen doesn’t want to know anything about.
The operators of the gas distribution networks keep pointing out that they have tens of thousands of industrial and commercial customers whose problems cannot be solved with electricity. These customers need high temperatures for casting metal, for firing ceramics, for glass production or for galvanizing.
The idea of supplying at least these customers with hydrogen instead of natural gas in the future and using the existing natural gas network for this is anything but far-fetched. But Graichen accepts none of this.
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The fact that the ability to compromise is not one of Graichen’s outstanding qualities was also felt last year by the German heating industry. For a long time, the industry was of the opinion that, in addition to the heat pump, other technologies should not be ruled out from the outset.
Threat of Asian competition
According to industry insiders, Graichen openly threatened to open the floodgates for Asian heat pump manufacturers if German companies were not prepared to commit themselves fully to the production of heat pumps.
In fact, shortly thereafter there was a change of heart: manufacturers announced new production capacities for heat pumps. Graichen had achieved his goal.
The Secretary of State does not seem sympathetic in such situations. In interaction with his boss, Graichen is clearly the “bad guy”. Minister Habeck, on the other hand, takes on the part of understanding – and sometimes puts the pieces back together that Graichen causes.
Graichen has long resisted accepting so-called blue hydrogen, which is produced on the basis of natural gas, as an alternative to green hydrogen. During the production of blue hydrogen, carbon dioxide is released, which is captured and stored underground.
“Graichen only knows theoretically how to do it”
Green hydrogen is produced using electricity from renewable sources through electrolysis. It is climate neutral. Only when Habeck, during a visit to Norway at the beginning of the year, praised blue hydrogen as an acceptable alternative for the transition, did Graichen turn to.
“Graichen only knows how to do it theoretically, but he doesn’t know how things are actually implemented,” says someone who has had a lot to do with the doctor of economics in recent months.
As Agora boss, Graichen set standards. Years ago, he outlined the path to climate neutrality. As early as 2017, the lobby organization presented the study “Wärmewende 2030”, which came to the conclusion that by 2030 in Germany six million heat pumps would have to be installed in order to achieve the climate targets. This value is now the target of the traffic light government.
The transition from powerpoint presentation to practice is difficult
Agora Energiewende sets the pace for the climate policy debate. The relatively small organization with currently around 100 employees already presented concepts and plans for the restructuring of the entire economy under Graichen’s predecessor Rainer Baake, who after his time as head of Agora also became Secretary of State for Economic Affairs, which Graichen has now made the guideline for his actions. He is reluctant to accept deviations.
But the transition from powerpoint presentation to practice is difficult. In the ministry, some point to Baake, who was much better able to put his plans into action. At the beginning of his time as State Secretary, Baake presented a detailed project timetable, which he worked through over the years precisely and punctually. This cannot be the case with Graichen.
The ministry is “chaotic,” criticizes a lobbyist who has already spent many hours in the building on Scharnhorststrasse in Berlin-Mitte. Now you have to give Graichen credit for the fact that times have rarely been so stormy. There is a massive energy supply crisis to deal with, for which no one in the ministry was prepared.
However, it can already be said that things did not always go smoothly in overcoming the crisis. And that Graichen has his part in it. We hear again and again from different sides that he was the most important advocate of the gas tax in his ministry, which ultimately failed.
And industry representatives accuse him of only half-heartedly pursuing the rescue of energy-intensive companies. At the bottom of his heart, Graichen is so happy about every tonne of CO2 saved that he is willing to accept the decline of entire industries.
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