Avoid rebound effects

Today, we’re feeling the effects of what we did or allowed in the past. Not just with the energy and climate crisis but also in daily life. Whoever earlier installed a private PV system or heat pump may be enjoying the present, since they do not have to worry about staggering increases to their electric/gas bills.

This could also have been the case for the German energy supply, but both the impedance of the expansion of renewable energies and the apodictic trust in the gas industry have now maneuvered Germany into a rather disagreeable position.


Kurt-Christoph von Knobelsdorff, managing director of the German administrative agency for hydrogen and fuel cell technology (Nationale Organisation Wasserstoff- und Brennstoffzellentechnologie GmbH, NOW) found clear words on the matter during the FC industry networking event Marktplatz Zulieferer in Berlin. He said that the proponents of the energy transition had placed too much emphasis on natural gas and electrification while neglecting the alternatives as well as a timely expansion and reconstruction of the corresponding infrastructure.

The NOW director outlined the vision of a climate-neutral society and confirmed that there is a great deal happening in all areas right now, but at the same time outright stated that the Federal Republic of Germany has long ceased to be a leader in renewable energies. Most recently with the Inflation Reduction Act that US President Joe Biden presented in August 2022 (see also pgs. 54 to 64) has the US “moved into the fast lane.”


In China, incidentally, electrification has been ramping up for a while, so the number of hydrogen fueling stations, for example, is now increased fivefold. On the other hand, here there is “really too little,” according to von Knobelsdorff: “We needed to accelerate the path to a hydrogen economy, but there hasn’t been much to see.” Instead, he dejectedly noted, “The Energiewende people squandered away the time.”

Indeed, many millions of euros and dollars are now being invested in H2 technology, both on the part of the government, in research and development as well as in support measures, and on the part of companies, in company acquisitions and in technology purchasing (see p. 8). But as a result of the old constraints of the fossil fuel age, it is currently difficult for Germany to fulfill the envisaged role as a lead market anytime soon.

The persisting forces that continue to urge that we should not place too great a burden on conventional industries, because they stand in global competition, are still influential. The hesitators, who would prefer to reactivate nuclear or coal power instead of fully committing to renewables, still occupy central decision-making positions.

Progressive sections of the government and the business community, on the other hand, have long since recognized the hour. The will to streamline and shorten approval procedures is there. Also the willingness to invest sufficient available money in not only new technologies and production capacities, but always also in order to take sustainability aspects into account, is there. Nevertheless, too little is still being done.

From an unideological point of view, it is not comprehensible why at the opportune time of the end of the German fuel supply tax reduction as well as the 9-euro train ticket, a temporary speed limit for the autobahn would not be introduced, in order to provide more freedom this way. Even if savings in the oil sector only indirectly affect other energy sectors, this would have been a clear sign of how simple energy saving can be. Even speed lovers would in the current situation have the understanding to drive a little slower for a few months so that no one has to freeze at home.

Starting on new paths would immediately offer a chance at new degrees of freedom for all of us. In doing so, however, it is crucial to not repeat the mistakes of the past. Up to now, it has been the case that technological leaps have usually not produced the hoped for savings. For example, the introduction of LED lamps did not lead to the hoped-for energy saving effects in all places, because the lights were sometimes switched off less often.

We can no longer afford such rebound effects. If the massive production of electrolyzers just leads to other resources being exploited and us becoming dependent on other nations, then it would help us very little.

It is already apparent today that there will be fierce global competition for certain resources. For example, cobalt, which is needed for electric cars, is found almost exclusively in the Congo. However, catalyst materials like platinum, ruthenium and iridium are also only minable at a few locations around the world. And lithium, which is also needed for the battery inside fuel cell vehicles, is still not recyclable to a sufficient quality.

Against this background, it is essential to recognize that less is more. Less use of all these resources is better for the environment and also reduces the risk of new dependencies. The same applies of course to energy consumption.

So that the vision of a climate-neutral energy supply does not remain an illusion, a more attentive approach is required overall – with resources, with energy, with the environment and with fellow human beings. If this is successful, we will indeed emerge from these crises much stronger. Climate-neutral energy is not a dream but a huge opportunity for us all.


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