Seveso, forest dieback, Chernobyl, and the contamination of the Rhine: the 1980s were marked by major environmental debates. In 1987, Klaus Töpfer became the first environment minister as a result. And with the slogan "show your colors," the Greens achieved 8.3 percent in the Bundestag elections - despite or perhaps because of the conservative defamation as "ecological ayatollahs." As an environmental party in the broadest sense, with anti-nuclear, anti-industry and anti-progress resolutions and a "get out and get away with it" program, it challenged the fundamental values of the Bonn Republic such as economic growth, the market economy, and NATO.
Toward the end of the decade, the issue of CO2-free energy production was added to the agenda. This was because the findings of climate researchers had become so validated that they could no longer be ignored. We had recognized that alternatives to coal, gas and oil urgently needed to be found. But we had not yet found the right words to express this and win over the middle of society. "Alternative energies" sounded neither high-tech nor progressive, but like cereal, wool socks, and Birkenstock sandals. Not connectable for the bourgeois mainstream, only for nature freaks like me and leftist hippie dropouts.
In the 1990s, there was finally a breath of fresh air for renewables! Young, activist entrepreneurs like the engineers in the collective "Wuseltronik", at "Wind und Solar Elektronik" as well as courageous politicians took up wind and solar energy. Even if the localization in the "left-alternative" milieu remained pronounced.
With our IPO of SOLON AG in 1998 came the first real breakthrough - far before the hype of the New Market. Suddenly, the energy monopoly market, which had been almost completely sealed off until then, was accessible to financial investors.
Then came the 1998 federal election and the Red-Green victory. In addition to unemployment and the economy, the election campaign focused on one issue in particular: the phase-out of nuclear power. As a result, one topic received special attention in the leading media for the first time: renewable energy from wind and solar.
Like us, the financial investors were betting that the electricity from their own solar panels would soon match the tariff price of the energy suppliers ("grid parity"). And although the huge difference in generation costs persisted and renewables remained expensive, the Greens insisted that the energy transition was feasible, advocating the narrative that persists to this day: "efficiency first." In other words, first do everything possible to reduce energy consumption - and then use wind and solar power to meet the remaining demand.
In the early 2000s, the Renewable Energy Sources Act (EEG) created a rapidly growing niche market for photovoltaics. With each larger factory, costs fell. And because the share of renewables was growing so rapidly, even faster than expected, we began to solicit support for integration technologies needed to smooth the generation profiles of renewables. However, we did not achieve the desired effect.
German politicians did not take the technology seriously, instead continuing to rely on cheap gas from Russia and "clean coal power plants" that were to become an export hit. China, on the other hand, had long since made plans to overtake the USA as an energy player as the world market leader in renewables. And what did we do? We split into camps: the new and the old energy industry, David against Goliath.
The Greens used the sharp drop in costs to create a new narrative that took the place of "efficiency first": "all electric". As far as possible, everything was to be powered by cheap green electrons: from cars to heating systems - except for a few industrial processes. Technological feasibility was irrelevant - everything seemed still so far ahead in the future...
The new battle cry was "all electric - efficiency first" when we developed the prototype with Younicos AG that led to the commissioning of the first battery plant to provide grid control in Berlin in 2008. Yet, in Germany, integration technologies were still not recognized as systemically necessary, still not promoted - indeed: still not wanted. And still the movers and shakers were perceived by the vast majority of the political system as "crackpots" and "subsidy bloodsuckers."
With the Lehman crisis, which particularly hurt the renewable sector, the solar industry's fight for survival finally began. Chinese manufacturers moved their way to the front, became world market leaders, and took over the entire solar industry. Germany reacted with a "wind and solar cap," which was supposed to ensure that the "solar horror," as a SPIEGEL title put it, would stop. The solar industry went bankrupt and ten lost years went by - until 2021.
In the meantime, the climate-minded green NGOs molded hundreds of young people in their "think tanks" according to the principle of their narrative "all electric - efficiency first" to fight climate change "in good faith." The pressure to finally decarbonize is due to accelerated global warming as well as the perceived accumulation of extreme weather. But it is also due to the fact that the topic of renewable energies has arrived in the mainstream as the real future of energy supply.