For Germany, where a deeply acrimonious battle over nuclear power had been raging for three decades, Japan’s Fukushima nuclear meltdown in March 2011 was not only a human, economic, and environmental disaster, it was a fundamental cultural shock to the system. Within weeks, Germany’s leaders made a decision to phase out nuclear power, permanently shutting down eight of the country’s 17 nuclear reactors immediately and pledging to close the rest by 2022.

If No Nukes, Then What?

Germany already had tough climate and energy targets in place, with the goal of achieving full decarbonisation by 2050. With nuclear off the table and carbon capture and storage (CCS) extremely unpopular among Germany’s population, that meant the country was headed toward almost 100% renewable electricity – a very ambitious long-term target but no clear pathway to get there. It also meant that the NGOs and industry associations that had been at loggerheads for years no longer had a reason for confrontation.

Soon after the Fukushima disaster, the ECF and our partner, the Mercator Foundation, recognised the need to restructure the policy field in a healthy way so it could influence and help map Germany’s Energiewende – the transition to renewable energy, energy efficiency, and sustainable development over the next 35-40 years. Our vision was to establish a neutral platform and a thoughtful process that would bring all the relevant stakeholders to the table, involve decision-makers from the very beginning, enable a high-level exchange of ideas, and eventually foster a convergence of views around how to achieve the long-term target. The team driving this new forum would highlight the latest scientific research and intelligence, explore options, and develop sound pathways towards the end-game in 2050, thereby facilitating policy decision-making.

First Things First: Find the Money and Build the Team

The first step toward establishing what we called Agora Energiewende was to line up initial funding of €12 million from the ECF and the Mercator Foundation for a five-year programme. Agora is the Greek word for “marketplace”, and that’s the spirit of what we wanted to create: an open forum where all parties could raise and debate a variety of ideas.

Once the funding was secured, our next step was to assemble a strong team to support the process. The team is led by former German Secretary of State Rainer Baake, whose prominence ensures we can bring senior people to the table. It also includes experts on infrastructure, market design, renewables, and communications.

In parallel, we set up the Council of the Agora, an illustrious and diverse group of federal ministers, Members of Parliament, secretaries of state, and many high-level representatives from energy-intensive companies, big and small utilities, environmental and consumer organisations, science, and trade unions.

How It Works

The council meets behind closed doors four times a year – typically for three hours of discussion followed by dinner – and exchanges information between meetings. In advance of the meetings, the Agora team prepares and circulates discussion papers on specific issues and always based on the latest scientific research. The meetings are designed to encourage a frank and open debate (Chatham House rules apply) through which participants can acknowledge their blind spots, achieve greater clarity and understanding, and advance beyond their incoming positions. There is no pressure to make decisions.

After the meetings, the briefing papers are used to inform discussions with other stakeholders (NGOs, umbrella organisations, journalists), thereby broadening the dialogue.

Progress to Date

Now that Agora Energiewende has been in action for more than one year, we can report that it has driven the debate quite a bit.

One of the early outputs, a document titled 12 Insights on Germany’s Energiewende, has attracted broad public attention. It is kind of a constitution for the Energiewende, laying out a possible pathway for transforming the energy system and addressing the challenges. After having been discussed within Germany’s energy community, it is widely accepted today and the response from abroad has been extremely positive.

A number of studies derived from the 12 insights have been conducted, with guidance and participation from government stakeholders, the energy regulator, scientists, the energy industry, and NGOs. This participatory approach delivers reliable and resilient studies, and it also ensures that everyone has better knowledge about the key results and stronger acceptance by stakeholders.

After completing each study, Agora Energiewende usually opens the public debate by organising public events. These take place at prominent venues in Berlin and usually attract some 200 to 300 energy experts.

This approach – scientific work, close collaboration with key stakeholders, and public presentation – is unique within the energy community and the key to Agora’s success.

Media coverage has been high, and Agora Energiewende has set the agenda on specific issues more than once. All in all, some 500 articles and radio and TV features have been published in 2013 as of mid-October, and many in the national media.

What the Agora Website Offers

Finally, the Agora website is an integral part of the project. It is not only a repository of all the studies and other publications (more than 20 in 2013 so far). It is also an important place for the energy community to get information about Germany’s energy system. The “Agorameter” shows how much power from renewables and other sources is being produced and how much is being consumed in every quarter of an hour, as well as how much is being imported and exported.

Another tool is the EEG calculator: This web application allows people to define scenarios on how renewable energy could evolve and what consequences this would have for the cost of the Energiewende. With this tool, decision makers can check whether their plans and models are appropriate and which adjustments would make sense.

To learn more about Agora, please visit the website, which is available in both German and English.