Separated by more than 4,000 miles, by language and cultural differences, Minnesota and Germany nevertheless share common challenges and can learn from each other’s experiences to find better ways to address them.
One of those challenges will be transitioning from a fossil fuel-based economy to one that is based on clean, renewable sources. It was the main topic of interest last week when the German consul general based in Chicago, Wolfgang Moessinger, visited sites across Minnesota accompanied by former Secretary of State Mark Ritchie and Sen. Dave Senjem, of Rochester.
The visit was arranged under a partnership developed by University of Minnesota professor Dr. Sabine Engel, director for international partnerships at the University of Minnesota Institute on the Environment. (Engel, in fact, could not be present for Moessinger’s visit -- she was in Germany.) In Rochester, Moessinger’s group met with Mayor Kim Norton, toured Mayo Clinic, and visited with our editorial board.
In Germany, unlike the U.S., new homes must be zero emissions, Moessinger said, and the Green Party has an enlarged and substantive role in the national government -- one that is expected to grow in the coming elections. “It’s hard to see a government forming without them,” Moessinger said.
The economics of energy is vastly different in Germany, too. Gas costs nearly twice as much as it does here -- about $5.50 per gallon. And the retail price for electricity in Germany is about three times higher than it is in our state.
But, similar to Minnesota, Germany lies at a central crossroads traversed by its neighbors. Obtaining funding for road maintenance is a challenge, and meanwhile the transportation and agricultural sectors are “very thorny” when it comes to bringing them along into a renewable future.
That’s an area where the U.S. potentially enjoys a head start. Moessinger related a story of meeting with Ford’s CEO, who told him that 60% of the orders for new F-150s are for battery-powered models. That far outstrips the demand for electric cars in Germany, he said.
But converting our transportation system to one driven by electricity, not gas, raises a whole host of questions. Will consumers -- not just those buying F-150s and Teslas -- embrace the new technology? How will you charge your car on a long trip? How will roads be built and maintained if funding falls off from the gasoline tax?
If our transportation system were marked by a road sign, that sign would likely read “Bumps ahead.” But one thing’s for sure: The perspective and insight we gain from partners even including faraway Germany will help.
As Senjem said of the relationship, already “it’s changed Minnesota.”