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Germany

Changing US Climate Tone Boosts Trans-Atlantic Energy Project

Shifting attitudes in the US have helped make a trans-Atlantic energy initiative possible, said the project's co-director. Germany's foreign minister will kick off the venture on the sidelines of his US visit.

Solar panels

Solar energy is just one type of sustainable energy that the center is to focus on

Roland Schindler is co-director of a fledgling US-German cooperation between the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Freiburg-based Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy System. The project focuses on sustainable energy systems and is being launched on Saturday, April 12, in the course of German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier's visit to the US.

Frank Walter Steinmeier and Condoleezza Rice

Steinmeier and Rice agree that sustainable energy is a worthy goal

DW-WORLD.DE: Tell us a bit about the project and its aims.

Roland Schindler: What we want to establish in the United States is a center for sustainable energy systems. We have to define what sustainable energy means: The term comprises the energy efficiency of buildings, transportation, industrial processes and renewable energy, namely photovoltaics, solar thermal, biomass, wind, geothermal and hydro.

We at the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems are involved in research oriented towards the technological application. In the end, we want to have a working system, as it is reflected already in the name of the institute.

We look at components of entire systems, system theory, systems technology, etc. For instance, if you put solar modules on your roof, the modules consist of individual solar cells that are electrically connected and laminated. When you connect the modules you need circuitry and control mechanisms to feed the electricity generated on the roof into the power supply in your house.

We're talking about an energy cooperation between Germany and the United States. Indeed, energy policies and attitudes toward the environment differ in the two countries. Does this lead to any problems?

It's not directly an issue for us. We see, of course, that some things will change in the next few years -- especially when the new administration takes office. In the individual states -- particularly California, Massachusetts and New York -- there's a strong push for renewable energies and climate goals.

Tanking at the gas station

Rising oil prices have gotten the Americans thinking, said Schindler

Bush torpedoed the Kyoto Protocol. In contrast, the Massachusetts environment minister under [President Bill] Clinton helped negotiate it.

Do you think a joint project will contribute to changing environment attitudes in the US?

I wouldn't say that the project alone will change the attitudes. It's the other way around. The project is possible because the attitudes in the US are in the process of changing, which is evident in how open the state government in Massachusetts was to it.

There's an increasing awareness of the significance of climate change and of energy efficiency as oil prices are increasing. This will change the overall attitude, even in the federal government, over the long term.

We would be delighted if our new center at MIT will help to develop cost-effective products to increase the share of sustainable energy in the US energy mix, based on close cooperation with Fraunhofer in Germany.

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