Germany’s New Favourite Sport: Competing to Save Energy | Kanebridge News
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Germany’s New Favourite Sport: Competing to Save Energy

After Russia throttled gas to the nation, washcloth wipe-downs and unheated pools; turning down the Christmas lights

Tue, Dec 6, 2022 9:03amGrey Clock 3 min

FRANKFURT, Germany—Psychologist Maria-Christina Nimmerfroh was doing her best to deliver an online lecture to business executives last month, but every few minutes an energy-saver switch in her empty classroom killed the lights.

Finally, she got tired of standing up to trigger the motion-detecting switch and lighted her face with her cellphone flashlight.

Russia stopped piping natural gas to much of Europe this fall, hoping to show Europeans that supporting Ukraine in the war might become too uncomfortable to bear. It didn’t count on Germans’ love of thrift.

Many Germans see frugality as part of their national identify, and bargain-hunting as a way of life. So they have embraced the energy challenge, finding ever more creative ways to slash consumption. So far, they are killing it.

Gas consumption by households and businesses in September and October declined by about a quarter from those same months in 2018 through 2020, even after adjusting for unseasonably warm weather, according to Oxford Economics, a think tank. The nation’s gas storage facilities are now 97% full, well ahead of the government’s most optimistic projections.

Germans have boasted on social media about who has kept the heat off longest as the weather turned colder, posting temperature readings as proof. They are swapping hot showers for washcloth wipe-downs, stocking up on thermal underwear, even lighting outdoor grills and camping stoves in their apartments.

Town councils have dimmed streetlights, lowered temperatures in public buildings and switched off hot water in public washrooms and showers. Swimming pools are left unheated. Some towns are considering turning off traffic lights. Saunas have closed. The city of Düsseldorf is considering lowering the temperature in a crematorium.

Grocery stores have shortened their hours and switched off some refrigerators. Churches are turning down the thermostat as low as 45 degrees and asking parishioners to donate blankets to older members. The Zugspitze ski resort is running chairlifts more slowly, and leaving their seats unheated.

Germans are trading tips on social media: Use the toaster to bake bread rolls. Do laundry every other week. Delete unneeded programs and apps from digital devices. Use the right lid for every pot.

A charity in the city of Bielefeld organized an energy-saving competition: Take two photos of your energy meter, six months apart. If your consumption is at least 10% lower than the average household’s, you have a chance to win €1,000, equivalent to $1,050.

“I have to admit, I’ve developed a certain sporting ambition about keeping the heating off for as long as possible,” Lion Hirth, professor of energy policy at the Hertie School in Berlin, posted on Twitter in October, triggering a deluge of me-too comments.

The Berlin Zoo has dimmed the lights and lowered the heat a bit for some animals, including giraffes and hippos, said spokeswoman Svenja Eisenbarth. At the city’s animal shelter, the thermostat in the dog kennels was dropped to 64 degrees. Dogs without warm fur are given winter coats.

Owners of exotic pets such as iguanas, which need to be kept at a balmy 77 to 82 degrees, have been dropping them off at the shelter, said spokeswoman Ute Reinhardt, and there is a waiting list of 50 for dog owners who want to do the same with their pets.

In Wolfratshausen, the town council cut in half the energy used by streetlights by converting them to LEDs and dimming them between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m.

Even that wasn’t good enough for some local officials. “The LED lighting is too bright,” said city councillor Rudi Seibt, who wants the lights turned down to the lowest legal level.

Politicians in other countries often refrain from preaching about energy use, but not in Germany. Winfried Kretschmann, state premier of Baden-Württemberg, posted a video saying people should turn down their thermostats. He told a local newspaper that people didn’t need to shower as much, noting that “the washcloth is also a useful innovation.”

To shame officials or companies that aren’t taking their energy saving seriously, citizens are posting videos of well-lit monuments and overheated stores.

Last month, the Bild newspaper reported that a political party in eastern Germany had ordered portable oil radiators for the state parliament after room temperatures were reduced to 66 degrees. The newspaper published photos of the incriminating packages stacked in the parliament’s post room. “Uncooperative louts,” its front page blared.

Germany’s 21,000 chimney sweeps are helping police the energy-saving. The sweeps do more than clean chimneys. They check for gas leaks and problems in heating systems. Their inspections are mandatory.

“Suddenly, everything that emits heat in some form is an option,” said Andreas Walburg, a master sweep. “We see a dangerous trend here.” He said his clients have been experimenting with gas grills and gasoline-powered camping stoves indoors. “These heat sources are not suitable for closed rooms,” he said.

Now, Germans’ energy-saving fervour is colliding with another national passion: Christmas. Around the country, local authorities have been debating whether to allow traditional street markets, ice rinks and festive lights.

In Halle, the council decided to pare back Christmas lights. A fairy-tale forest on a market square will be illuminated only from 10:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m., reducing energy consumption by half, according to officials. Civic buildings, monuments and fountains will remain dark. There will be no illuminated Christmas tree on another market square.

“In our opinion, Christmas can also be atmospheric under reduced lighting,” said Mayor Egbert Geier.


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China’s EV Juggernaut Is a Warning for the West

Competitive pressure and creativity have made Chinese-designed and -built electric cars formidable competitors

Thu, Jun 8, 2023 4 min

China rocked the auto world twice this year. First, its electric vehicles stunned Western rivals at the Shanghai auto show with their quality, features and price. Then came reports that in the first quarter of 2023 it dethroned Japan as the world’s largest auto exporter.

How is China in contention to lead the world’s most lucrative and prestigious consumer goods market, one long dominated by American, European, Japanese and South Korean nameplates? The answer is a unique combination of industrial policy, protectionism and homegrown competitive dynamism. Western policy makers and business leaders are better prepared for the first two than the third.

Start with industrial policy—the use of government resources to help favoured sectors. China has practiced industrial policy for decades. While it’s finding increased favour even in the U.S., the concept remains controversial. Governments have a poor record of identifying winning technologies and often end up subsidising inferior and wasteful capacity, including in China.

But in the case of EVs, Chinese industrial policy had a couple of things going for it. First, governments around the world saw climate change as an enduring threat that would require decade-long interventions to transition away from fossil fuels. China bet correctly that in transportation, the transition would favour electric vehicles.

In 2009, China started handing out generous subsidies to buyers of EVs. Public procurement of taxis and buses was targeted to electric vehicles, rechargers were subsidised, and provincial governments stumped up capital for lithium mining and refining for EV batteries. In 2020 NIO, at the time an aspiring challenger to Tesla, avoided bankruptcy thanks to a government-led bailout.

While industrial policy guaranteed a demand for EVs, protectionism ensured those EVs would be made in China, by Chinese companies. To qualify for subsidies, cars had to be domestically made, although foreign brands did qualify. They also had to have batteries made by Chinese companies, giving Chinese national champions like Contemporary Amperex Technology and BYD an advantage over then-market leaders from Japan and South Korea.

To sell in China, foreign automakers had to abide by conditions intended to upgrade the local industry’s skills. State-owned Guangzhou Automobile Group developed the manufacturing know-how necessary to become a player in EVs thanks to joint ventures with Toyota and Honda, said Gregor Sebastian, an analyst at Germany’s Mercator Institute for China Studies.

Despite all that government support, sales of EVs remained weak until 2019, when China let Tesla open a wholly owned factory in Shanghai. “It took this catalyst…to boost interest and increase the level of competitiveness of the local Chinese makers,” said Tu Le, managing director of Sino Auto Insights, a research service specialising in the Chinese auto industry.

Back in 2011 Pony Ma, the founder of Tencent, explained what set Chinese capitalism apart from its American counterpart. “In America, when you bring an idea to market you usually have several months before competition pops up, allowing you to capture significant market share,” he said, according to Fast Company, a technology magazine. “In China, you can have hundreds of competitors within the first hours of going live. Ideas are not important in China—execution is.”

Thanks to that competition and focus on execution, the EV industry went from a niche industrial-policy project to a sprawling ecosystem of predominantly private companies. Much of this happened below the Western radar while China was cut off from the world because of Covid-19 restrictions.

When Western auto executives flew in for April’s Shanghai auto show, “they saw a sea of green plates, a sea of Chinese brands,” said Le, referring to the green license plates assigned to clean-energy vehicles in China. “They hear the sounds of the door closing, sit inside and look at the quality of the materials, the fabric or the plastic on the console, that’s the other holy s— moment—they’ve caught up to us.”

Manufacturers of gasoline cars are product-oriented, whereas EV manufacturers, like tech companies, are user-oriented, Le said. Chinese EVs feature at least two, often three, display screens, one suitable for watching movies from the back seat, multiple lidars (laser-based sensors) for driver assistance, and even a microphone for karaoke (quickly copied by Tesla). Meanwhile, Chinese suppliers such as CATL have gone from laggard to leader.

Chinese dominance of EVs isn’t preordained. The low barriers to entry exploited by Chinese brands also open the door to future non-Chinese competitors. Nor does China’s success in EVs necessarily translate to other sectors where industrial policy matters less and creativity, privacy and deeply woven technological capability—such as software, cloud computing and semiconductors—matter more.

Still, the threat to Western auto market share posed by Chinese EVs is one for which Western policy makers have no obvious answer. “You can shut off your own market and to a certain extent that will shield production for your domestic needs,” said Sebastian. “The question really is, what are you going to do for the global south, countries that are still very happily trading with China?”

Western companies themselves are likely to respond by deepening their presence in China—not to sell cars, but for proximity to the most sophisticated customers and suppliers. Jörg Wuttke, the past president of the European Union Chamber of Commerce in China, calls China a “fitness centre.” Even as conditions there become steadily more difficult, Western multinationals “have to be there. It keeps you fit.”


Chris Dixon, a partner who led the charge, says he has a ‘very long-term horizon’

Americans now think they need at least $1.25 million for retirement, a 20% increase from a year ago, according to a survey by Northwestern Mutual

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