"I help Barbados to establish a renewable energy system" Interview with Lifetime Achievement Award winner, Prof Olav Hohmeyer
EEHH: Congratulations on winning the Lifetime Achievement category of the German Renewables Award! As you said at the award ceremony, your life’s work is far from over. What are you currently involved with?
Prof Hohmeyer: “I’m helping the Caribbean island nation of Barbados to convert its energy supply to 100% renewable energies. In 2019, its government officially decided to achieve total climate neutrality by 2030. This also includes the transport sector. I’ve designed a feed-in tariff similar to the original German Renewable Energy Act from before 2014, which is helping to develop renewable energies.”
EEHH: How did this unusual contact with Barbados come about?
Prof Hohmeyer: “Former colleagues at the Europe University of Flensburg maintained a German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) cooperation with Barbados. A few years ago, a colleague asked me to help out with a seminar. So I first taught renewable energy systems to students aged 25 to 45 at the University of the West Indies in Barbados back in 2013. A student with close political connections put me in touch with local politicians. That’s when I first broached the idea of a 100% renewable energy supply for Barbados. The Barbados Renewable Energy Association and Central Bank of Barbados allowed me to present my calculations for a 100% renewable energy system for Barbados at a public event in the Central Bank’s offices in autumn 2014. The Head of the Central Bank was extremely interested in the subject, as it provided an opportunity to free the country from its almost total dependence on imported petroleum products. The extremely high oil prices of previous years almost plunged Barbados into bankruptcy.”
EEHH: Dare to innovate – this is the title of the coalition agreement of Germany’s new government. What are your expectations of the coalition?
Prof Hohmeyer: “It’s getting serious. Germany’s new government must deliver. Now that the coalition includes the Greens, the SPD - more of a traditional coal party - is under significantly more pressure. Just ten years ago, the SPD relied very heavily on coal as a bridging technology and supported the construction of almost 30 GW of new coal-fired power capacity. New power stations that would all now be obsolete, just like Moorburg. The SPD and FDP must finally refocus and move from being blockers to enablers of the energy transition.”
EEHH: Hydrogen – the champagne of the energy transition?! What’s your view of the current hype surrounding the smallest element?
Prof Hohmeyer: “I think this hype is completely counter-productive. Hydrogen should only be used if there’s no other option, as conversion to hydrogen always involves huge energy losses and an unnecessarily large expansion of renewable generation capacity would therefore be required. It makes no sense to use hydrogen for cars and lorries. We can and must use electricity for these. For freight transport, this means lorries driving along motorways attached to overhead cables. We will need hydrogen for industrial processes such as primary steel production that cannot be operated using electricity alone. We will also have to use large quantities of hydrogen and recycled CO2 from direct air capture to produce synthetic kerosene and synthetic diesel for air traffic and some deep-sea shipping.”