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Prerequisites for a successful energy transition

Climate change is one of the greatest challenges - if not the greatest challenge - of our time

The effects of the man-made changes that we are already experiencing today probably only give us an idea of the dramatic impacts and consequences that we - and even more so our future generations - will have to face. The political efforts to actively combat climate change are firmly anchored in Europe and Austria. Accordingly, Europe has set itself the goal of converting its energy consumption to sustainable and renewable resources by 2050, thus avoiding CO2 emissions. Austria has set itself the ambitious goal of achieving this already by 2040. In addition to ecological aspects, the currently very high dependence on imports of European countries also plays a role that should not be neglected. Political and economic dependencies on countries with at least questionable political structures are making the quest to use sustainable and domestic resources even more urgent. However, reducing the dependency on imports, in combination with the greening of the energy system, presents our society with huge challenges. Nevertheless, we must consider this as an opportunity to make our society more resilient, both economically and politically. Climate protection and positive environmental impacts, together with economic and political effects, are prerequisites for ensuring that we leave our children a place worth living in. In this respect, the challenges must be viewed as a project across generations. It is a long-term, technically complex, cost-intensive, and socially highly relevant task that requires appropriate coordination and professional support from all the entities involved. It is important not only to focus on currently known technologies but also to further develop promising technologies that are not yet market-ready (on an industrial scale) (e.g. different technologies for short- and long-term storage of electricity, gas, and heat). We must rise to these challenges!



Making the decarbonization of the energy system an issue beyond all question at a political level

The energy transition can only succeed if all stakeholders are on the same page. This requires a broad political and social consensus: the scale of the measures and investments must be commensurate with the scale of the challenge! Current scenarios show an electricity demand of up to 160TWh in 2040 - an increase by a factor of 2-2.5 compared to today's demand.


Guaranteeing a high quality of security of electricity supply also in the future

The high level of security of supply must be guaranteed also in the future. This requires an adequate grid infrastructure, a deep integration of the European energy market, and an attractive environment for innovative technologies (battery storage, power-to-X, etc.). Grid operators must be given the necessary resources and legal basis so that forward-looking investments can be made in the grids and optimized grid operation and security of supply can be guaranteed.


Coordinating activities to avoid inefficiencies

The energy transition can only succeed with a joint effort - and only if the right investments are made in the right place at the right time. To ensure this, comprehensive planning is required in which all sectors (transport, industry/commerce, households, etc.) are taken into account. Cost-optimized scenarios are to be mapped out for this purpose, ensuring that the investments made by individual players generate the greatest added value for society. At the same time, a transparent process is to be created to determine which costs are borne by which sectors and which milestones are to be achieved. This requires central coordination with sufficient expertise.


Investing in renewable energy sources and making sure that the expansion of the necessary infrastructure for electricity and hydrogen is accelerated and given priority

The expansion of renewable energy sources and infrastructure for electricity and hydrogen must be accelerated. Such projects should be carried out in view of the "overriding public interest". Energy transition projects should be prioritized in appeal proceedings. In general, bureaucracy must be reduced to speed up procedures and approvals. At the same time, the relevant authorities must be provided with sufficient resources and funding to adequately process the increasing number of requests. The current legal situation needs to be adjusted urgently to ensure that the energy transition can be implemented in due time.


Securing funding

The decarbonized energy system of the future will have a completely different cost structure. Import costs for fossil fuels will be eliminated. At the same time, massive up-front investments in the energy infrastructure are necessary: the conversion of the energy system is in many areas a conversion from an OPEX- to a CAPEX-dominated system. Financing of the infrastructure must therefore be secured through appropriate return on investment and risk compensation.


Rethinking pay scale structures

Due to the altered cost structure (→ transition to a fixed-cost-based energy system in many areas) and changed grid usage (→ e.g. sector coupling), pay scale structures will have to be rethought in the future. This will require close cooperation between the social partners to ensure that costs are distributed fairly and no one is left behind.


Maintaining and expanding an attractive business location through competitive energy prices

Due to the rapid and non-bureaucratic expansion of renewable energy sources and the associated infrastructure, the energy system of the future - consisting primarily of PV, wind, and hydropower - can be operated at de facto zero marginal costs. At the same time, investments in the domestic production of electricity, hydrogen, and bio-methane are investments in domestic value creation. These positive effects of the energy transition should reach consumers and the economy directly, thereby strengthening the location.


Thinking about democratization, digitalization, and decentralization from the outset

The energy transition can only succeed if all potential levers are used. Digitalization facilitates completely new relationships between the players in the energy industry. The enormous potential of electricity generation from PV and wind power plants can be optimally exploited on a decentralized basis at the level of households, industry/commerce, municipalities, etc., thereby democratizing the energy system. Renewable Energy Communities and Citizen Energy Communities are important economic instruments that need to be developed further. Automated and user-friendly connection procedures are essential for successful democratization, especially for low-voltage generation plants.


Sector-coupling and storage systems

Large-scale electrolyzers for converting excess electricity into (seasonally) storable hydrogen and short-term storage facilities (e.g. battery storage) are an indispensable part of a future coupled energy system (electricity, gas, heat, mobility). The integration of renewable energies into the energy system can be significantly accelerated by converting renewable electricity into hydrogen or by storing it in batteries, as this allows electricity peaks to be better assimilated and connected loads to be utilized more efficiently. Political and regulatory measures must be taken to ensure that investments in electrolysis plants and transport infrastructure for electricity and hydrogen are made in good time by market participants and grid operators. However, there is currently no Austrian strategy regarding storage facilities, and the present legal framework also prevents the development of necessary storage capacities.

Based on these postulations, we are proposing an action plan:

Social partners and politicians should set the necessary framework

The social partners, as key representatives of our society, must achieve a consensus regarding the milestones of the energy transition that need to be achieved (targets of the Renewable Energy Expansion Act (EAG) by 2030 and complete decarbonization by 2040) and thus give politicians the necessary backing to create appropriate legal and regulatory conditions.

Coordination of energy infrastructure planning activities

There has to be a shared coordination regarding the entire energy infrastructure (electricity, heat, methane, hydrogen, mobility) and value chain (generation, storage, transportation, consumption) with sufficient expertise. Infrastructure operators and providers as well as research must play a central role in this context.

Establishing a national cost-benefit analysis of the energy transition

Establishing a national cost-benefit analysis of the energy transition on a scientific basis to create a common ground for discussions on financing and possible pay scale models.

Promoting the training and further education

Promoting the training and further education of the necessary skilled workers and ensuring the transfer of knowledge between research, innovation, practice, and the responsible authorities.

Cost-optimised restructuring of the energy system

Ensuring that the restructuring of the energy system is carried out at optimal costs to maintain the competitiveness of the Austrian economy and avoid penalties at a European level (CO2 pricing).

Rapid implementation of no-regret measures

To achieve climate neutrality in Austria by 2040, the energy system will have to be massively restructured within 17 years. However, investments in individual large-scale power line projects currently require this much time. There is an urgent need for action!

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