UMN works with German government on advancing Minnesota’s sustainability

A delegation of Minnesotans will travel to Germany to continue discussion and projects.

by Cleo Krejci

Several faculty from the University of Minnesota recently headed to Germany as part of an sustainable energy partnership between the University’s Institute on the Environment and Germany’s government.

Faculty left on Saturday for a seminar on the country’s “energiewende,” or its plan for transitioning to clean energy. They will add to a broader delegation of Minnesotans attending the seminar, including business leaders and lawmakers who are looking to advance the state’s progress on environmental sustainability. 

Germany’s Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy awarded the Institute on the Environment a grant in 2011, forming a partnership between the two to further cross-country development of sustainable energy tools and policies.

The ongoing partnership has sponsored seminars in Minnesota and Germany since 2011, including this year’s Berlin Seminar on Energy Policy. 

The Berlin seminar focuses on the interplay between rural and urban communities in transitioning to sustainability, including wind and solar energy and decreasing reliance on non-renewable resources. 

Minnesota and Germany share commonalities in industry, economy and access to natural resources said Rolf Weberg, executive director of University of Minnesota Duluth’s Natural Resources Research Institute (NRRI).

“We get to leapfrog and learn from [Germany’s] experiences and take all of their best ideas… and implement them around the world. We want do that from a Minnesota point of view,” said Jessica Hellmann, director of the Institute on the Environment.  

The seminar itself is non-partisan, which is similar to Germany’s society where transitioning to clean energy is not identified with a political party, said Sabine Engel, the Institute on the Environment’s director of international partnerships, who moved to the U.S. from Germany for college.  

“What the Germans have shown is that a collaborative, non-partisan approach really works and we would like to help support that [in Minnesota] too,” said Engel.

The Institute on the Environment’s work with Germany has sparked student interest on the topic, including the creation of a study abroad program in Germany. 

“We are burdened with [environmental issues] that the last generation hasn’t been,” said Joseph Mullen, the Institute on the Environment’s student project assistant lead for international partnerships. “I think now we’re kind of pressured to use less [resources].”

Dean Mostafa Kaveh of the College of Science and Engineering, who is attending the seminar, said a significant amount of research relating to wind, solar and thermal technologies takes place in CSE.

CSE research often overlaps with policy making, mirroring the necessary interplay Kaveh expects to take place at the seminar.

“Energy is starting to have opportunities like the Berlin Seminar where people start seeing… [opportunities] to try to drive a result – drive an impact,” Weberg said. “I see that as a really good model for universities anywhere to pick up and drive it from the basic research to commercialization.” 

After attending previous seminars, Weberg said dialogue has led to developments in NRRI’s research and future collaborations on implementing natural resources to develop sustainable practices and jobs in Minnesota.

“Anytime you can expand your horizons beyond your immediate environment always gives you better work,” Weberg said. “Getting more experts working together is how you solve big problems. And energy is a big problem.”

Delegates from Germany plan to visit the University in fall 2018 to continue their ongoing work.