North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) is the most populous state in Germany, with some 18 million inhabitants. And climate change is firmly on the agenda. Since 1995, the city of Bonn has been home to the UNFCCC Secretariat, becoming the epicenter of all international climate activities between the annual Summits.

Despite being heavily industrialized (37 of the 100 largest companies in Germany are based in NRW and it has strengths in coal and steel, other metals, chemicals and machine and auto-manufacturing) as well as being fairly energy-intensive (30% of Germany’s energy production and 40% of its consumption take place in NRW, producing some 32% of national carbon emissions) the state has the highest potential for emissions reductions.


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The great effort that the NRW Government is putting into decarbonizing its economy and facilitating lower carbon futures for its businesses and residents, shows its clear commitment to tackling the challenges of climate change.

And the first step for NRW is huge. 87% of NRW’s energy comes from coal and gas. Yet in 1990 the state embarked on its epic journey towards decarbonization and has since made vast strides towards reaching this goal.

The state has comprehensive targets across all sectors to help tackle its climate impact:

  • GHG reduction (overall): Through its own Climate Change Bill, NRW intends to reduce its emissions 25% (at least) compared to 1990 levels by 2020 and 80% (at least) by 2050
  • Power: By focusing on decentralized energy and by removing some of the planning hurdles inhibiting progress in this area, NRW now aims to achieve a 15% share of total energy generation from renewables by 2020 (this currently sits at 5%)
  • Transport: It aims to bring at least 250,000 Electric Vehicles (EV) to market by 2020. The Rhine-Ruhr area is also one of eight German model regions for electro-mobility. Currently there are around 200 vehicles (including cars, electro-scooters and bicycles, commercial vehicles, hybrid buses and waste collection vehicles) and 500 charging stations undergoing practical trials.
  • Industry: It will be defined by the EU Emissions Trading Scheme. The NRW Bank provides a €200 million low-interest loan program for energy efficiency investments in the industry
  • Buildings: Intends to increase total heat pumps installed in NRW to 200,000 by 2020, as well as spend €200 million annually as a subsidy program for the energy efficient refurbishment of buildings
  • Agriculture: 3 million additional trees by 2015 as part of the Billion Trees Initiative. NRW welcomes the new €35 million forest climate fund set up by the German Federal Government
  • Government: By 2030, the state Government intends to be carbon neutral

Much of the effort to achieve these targets is driven through the state’s dedicated energy agency – EnergieAgentur.NRW – a central hub providing advice and information on energy efficiency for thousands of individuals from business and society. The agency also manages the energy economy cluster, EnergieRegion.NRW, and the energy research cluster,CEF.NRW.

Below, some of the highlights achieved by the Agency and the state at large are highlighted.

Clean economy, more jobs

Between 1988 and 2007, €700 million was spent on 60,000 projects concerned with the development, demonstration and market launch of innovative energy technologies. These funds attracted further investment of €3.8 billion.

According to a 2010 IWR study, around 26,500 workers are employed in NRW by 3,500 companies in the field of renewable energy, collectively generating some €8.3 billion – demonstrating the clear viability of the low carbon economy.

In 2008-11 €70 million funded an additional 14,700 projects.

Greener buildings

As part of the My House Saves program, more than 1,200 low energy buildings were awarded Energy Saver NRW plaques 2006-2011. In the same time frame around 90,000 loan applications totalling €5 billion were approved by the reconstruction bank KfW to finance the retrofitting of more than 280,000 buildings in NRW.

The 50 Solar Housing Estates in NRW demonstrate the potential of active and passive solar energy use to generation heat and electricity. 37 new estates and estates in the existing stock have now been finished with nearly 9,000 residents, with 14 more under construction, making NRW a leader on solar housing.

Bonn airport

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To take efforts even further, the state is building 100 ‘climate protection estates’ with all new buildings needing to be built 50-60% below the requirements laid out in the 2009 Energy Saving Ordinance. 35 estates have been planned and nine are under construction.

Opportunity to be tapped

NRW also boasts a burgeoning geothermal energy sector, with around 230 companies operating in the region and an associated 5,000 jobs. With warm mine water sources in abandoned mines NRW also has significant potential for building heating – an opportunity which is still to be tapped.

Due to the power plant capacity in NRW, it is important for the state to take radical steps to limit the climate impact of the infrastructure already in place. Following the concept of the Reference Power Plant NRW, coal-fired power plants are being constructed worldwide with efficiency ratings of up to 46%. This means that it is possible to save 138gCO2/kWh as compared with the present average efficiency of 38%. If all power plants globally produced power according to this standard, CO2 emissions would be cut by approximately 30%.

NRW has launched a comprehensive €250 million funding program for CHP generation as a bridging technology for power generation. The main aim is to eliminate investment obstacles to the expansion of CHP and to expand and condense the near-industry district heating infrastructure.

Around 30% of all new structures and many existing buildings in NRW are heated using heat pumps. In 2011 around 57,000 new heat pumps were installed in Germany; 11,000 of them in NRW. Of the 450,000 heat pumps installed nationwide, around 91,000 (20%) provide for environmentally friendly heat in NRW.

Keeping up with the competition

In 2010, NRW produced over a quarter of all installed Photovoltaic capacity in Germany was located in NRW, making it the third largest contributor behind Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg. NRW is 5th in Germany for installed wind capacity, with just under 2,900 wind turbines operational in 2011, providing an installed capacity of around 3,070 MW.

Given that the German Government and all of its associated states have committed to reaching reduction targets without the use of nuclear power, NRW’s challenge is all the greater. But this effort, and the acknowledgement that there is much more to be done as well as many exciting developments on the horizon, is encouraging for this powerful, and shows that Germany is set to lead the clean revolution.