Coming Soon: A German Energy Consultant

It might sound glib, but one answer to rising energy prices is simply to use less energy. And indeed this is exactly what Germany is saying in the face of higher energy prices.

The math of it is easy enough: use less, pay less, and the environment wins, too. But how to do this when one already conscientiously flips off the bathroom lights when not in use?

This is what an energy consultant can tell you. Energy consulting is now a full-fledged profession, one with enormous potential. In Denmark, which is way out in front on energy conservation, energy consulting is a cottage industry that provides thousands of jobs. In Germany, it’s growing into one. 

The backgrounds of these professionals are diverse–and there’s no official German standard yet–but to be listed in the database of the German Energy Agency (a reputable think tank, based in Berlin), engineers and architects have to attend a special energy consulting course for 120 hours, while craftsmen require 200 hours of instruction.

How does it work? One can hire a private energy consultant through the internet or through Germany’s Federation of German Consumer Organizations (VZBV), which (by way of the Federal Ministry of Economics and Technology) subsidizes the costs of the service. The subsidized variant comes in different forms, from a telephone chat for free to a more complex analysis of heating boilers costing 30 euros.

So what happens? After an initial consultation at the local consumer center (Verbraucherzentrale) office, the consultant visits your house or apartment, surveys your living space, and makes recommendations on how to save on your energy bills. They could suggest appliances to replace, point out energy-guzzling features of your abode, locate the possibilities for using renewables, propose changes in your supplier, and even recommend opportunities for subsidies or loans to, for example, insulate your apartment, house, or building. “We encourage people to ask questions and we try to answer every one of them that deals with energy usage in private households,” says Peter Kafke, expert with the energy consultancy branch of the VZBV.

In addition to on-the-spot advice, all of the household’s data is fed into a computer program that issues a report underscoring waste and potential to save. This is then emailed to the client.

Then you’re on your own to follow it up (like plunking 750 euros into a brand new fridge). Somewhere down the line, low-income families may even receive support for energy-efficient appliances. A more efficient fridge can save up to 100 euros a year.

So serious is Germany about getting these experts into private households, it just announced new measures to help out even further with the costs, both for the consulting–making it free — and paying for the recommended measures, which can be very expensive if insulating an entire building.  Refitting housing with state-of-the-art insulation can run 20,000 euros for a small family house to over 100,000 euros for an apartment building. Loans are available through Germany’s Development Bank (KfW), among other sources.

The fact is that Germany (and just about everywhere in Europe, excluding Denmark) is way behind schedule in implementing measures to hit energy savings targets for 2020.

All of these consumer-oriented energy savings measures eventually pay off, that’s the conclusion of virtually every study. The catch is individuals have to pay for them up front, and 750 euros for a new fridge isn’t peanuts — or I’d have one, too.

Lead image: Coming soon sign via Shutterstock

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Paul Hockenos is a Berlin-based author who has written about Europe since 1989. Paul is the author of three major books on European politics: Free to Hate: The Rise of the Right in Post-Communist Eastern Europe, Homeland Calling: Exile Patriotism and the Balkans Wars, and Joschka Fischer and the Making of the Berlin Republic: An Alternative History of Postwar Germany. From 1997-99 he worked with the international mission in Bosnia and 2003-04 in Kosovo. Since then, Paul has held fellowships with the American Academy in Berlin, the European Journalism College in Berlin, and the German Marshall Fund. He was an editor at Internationale Politik, Germany’s leading foreign affairs journal, for five years. He is currently author of the blog Going Renewable and is writing a book about Germany’s energy revolution.

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