And again a relief package for the traffic lights. In addition, the request to save some energy in the cold season. An offensive energy policy was imagined differently. Robert Habeck had suggested good alternatives to Putin’s natural gas in his immediate program in April.
It generates electricity, it generates heat, it is cheap, easy to obtain, storable and even a recyclable waste product – a jack of all trades among energy sources: biogas. At Easter, Federal Minister of Economics Robert Habeck wanted to boost German biogas production in his immediate climate protection program.
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The reasons for this seemed crystal clear: The production of biogas costs around 7 cents per kilowatt hour, explained the biogas expert Zoltan Elek in April here on FOCUS online. Natural gas, on the other hand, has cost between 24 and 34 cents in the past few weeks – that is 3.5 to 5 times as much as biogas.
It is not to be expected that natural gas prices will fall back to the previously low level. Russian natural gas fails in the future. And overseas LNG isn’t exactly cheap. Biogas is therefore the bargain among the energetic substitute products.
One wonders why Habeck has been hesitating for months with his announced biogas offensive. The biogas potential is huge at 250 terawatt hours and, according to cautious forecasts by the energy associations BDEW and DVGW, could replace at least a quarter of Germany’s natural gas requirements – and thus a large part of the Putin gas imports of 2021.
Biogas is therefore not a small piece of the jigsaw puzzle in the structure of German security of supply, but could be a cornerstone. Although politicians have been preventing the construction of new biogas power plants for over ten years due to alleged nature conservation concerns, the eco-gas power plants continue to contribute around six percent to the German electricity supply year after year.
Regardless of the weather or time of day, they help to stabilize the fluctuating electricity suppliers wind power and photovoltaics. And they also deliver warmth. Biogas can be converted into electricity and burned in small power plants. Or: The cleaned biogas is fed into the natural gas grid as methane in order to bring it to the large consumers and power plants.
Organic waste from the brown bin, food leftovers from the food trade and gastronomy, manure and straw from the farm and all other organic residues from agriculture and forestry are the basis for biogas. It’s about recycling waste into energy. Basically a ur-green topic. But the two Green Ministries for Economics and the Environment have so far shown no interest.
As with solar energy and wind power, biogas is also a fragmented and decentralized business. Biowaste, energy crops or liquid manure are currently being fermented in around 9,500 plants across Germany.
All in all, it’s the crowd that makes it. Above all, farmers or medium-sized companies invest in biogas plants. And farmers and SMEs in particular need planning security and a reliable political framework to secure their investments.
The tasks that Habeck has to shoulder here are numerous, but they must now be tackled. Three examples:
dr Eric Schweitzer is the owner and CEO of the Berlin ALBA Group, one of the leading environmental service providers and suppliers of raw materials in Europe with an annual turnover of around 1.3 billion euros and 5400 employees. ALBA is also the name sponsor of the current German basketball champions. Schweitzer was President of the Association of German Chambers of Industry and Commerce (DIHK) from 2013 to 2021 and has been Honorary President of the DIHK and the IHK Berlin since 2021.
“Most of the organic waste is composted today, only a small part is fermented in biogas plants,” writes Habeck in his immediate program from April. This is also confirmed by the Federal Environment Agency.
Currently, most municipalities and districts allow private and commercial organic waste to ferment to compost in the open air. The methane escapes unhindered into the atmosphere and damages the climate – according to the UN 25 times more than carbon dioxide. Organic waste therefore belongs first in the biogas plant. The digestate can then be processed into compost.
A ban on composting energy-rich organic waste before it has been fermented into biogas would save a great deal of energy and protect the climate. According to the Federal Environment Agency, around a third of organic waste also ends up in the black residual waste bin.
On the one hand, many districts and municipalities still lack organic waste bins, on the other hand, tenants and landlords need more information: According to surveys, only around 64 percent of Germans separate their organic waste.
But according to the Circular Economy Act, all of their organic waste must be collected and recycled separately. Cities and districts have to implement the laws more strictly than before – also with commercial organic waste, also in agriculture and forestry.
With all understanding for politics and the patient art of reconciling conflicting opinions in a coalition: Half a year has passed since Habeck’s announcement of a biogas offensive without even feeling the slightest hint of an offensive.
One might think that it is sufficient for the federal government to put together one or two relief packages and just call for energy saving.
But now the traffic light must finally drive in the pegs that will provide us with a sustainable replacement for Putin’s Gazprom gas in the future. LNG is certainly not the most environmentally friendly solution. But the Federal Minister for Climate Protection certainly knows that himself. A little more courage would be needed now.