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Weak signal: Roadblocks for electric buses in Germany

A series of fires[1]  stalled the energy transition of German public transportation and the strategy of deploying a fleet of electric buses. For several months now, fires have been caused probably by overheating batteries during charging[2]. These incidents have forced some municipalities to remove these vehicles from circulation[3]  before putting them back into service[4]. Such risks[5] are well known to the authorities[6], but the speed of deployment combined with the novelty of this technology have made them particularly difficult to control.

Back to (complex) reality

We interpret this situation as a weak signal of the return to reality that we have been describing for several months in our bulletin, most recently in the GEAB No 160 “Has the West bet on the wrong future?”
A weak signal revealing past bad choices and the complexity of the reality that makes countries like Germany vulnerable to several aspects of the energy transition, mostly underestimated:

This transition cannot take place in a linear way, it involves risks that will necessarily materialise. Whether they are due to internal elements that are possible to anticipate (as is the case here), or to external elements that are very difficult to control (natural disasters, international conflicts).

These risks impose multiple choices if we want to show a minimum of resilience. Here, Europeans could pay dearly for having discarded research into hydrogen engines in the 1990s. A single solution, let alone a miracle one, cannot be satisfactory, yet today the prospect of all-electricity is dominating the energy transition in the transport sector. A dynamic that will be very complicated to reverse when we consider the end of free money and the financing crisis that is looming on the horizon. There is also the international turmoil that complicates access to fossil fuels from a European perspective, with Russia being the main supplier, particularly in the case of Germany. The country is thus left with difficulties in managing its supplies and with no choice but to continue to favour electricity, if possible at reasonable prices.

A new face of degrowth?

This last point brings us back to the implacable logic of sobriety, which is so difficult to envisage seriously in our system of consumption and production. And yet, it is becoming increasingly difficult to ignore it as it begins to impose itself by force. In this situation, the sudden downsizing of the public transport fleet was only temporary as it was quickly followed by new orders. But the trend could continue with such contingencies, disasters, shortages, conflicts or sectoral inflations. In the near future, the most threatened sector is energy, first because of inflation and now also because of the geopolitical situation. When the sudden reduction in energy consumption is felt, the authorities will most certainly do their utmost to ensure that it applies first to private individuals, to preserve industry.

A new face of degrowth is taking shape here, one that is no longer ideological, and therefore only conceivable from a privileged and essentially Western point of view but is imposed by a material reality.

Join the GEAB Community on LinkedIn for more discussions on this topic.


[1] Source: Expaturm, 21/10/2021

[2] Source: AP7AM, 22/02/2022

[3] Source: Trends der Zukunft, 21/10/2021

[4] Source : Suddeutsche Zeitung, 25/10/2021

[5] Source : Quartz, 21/02/2022

[6] Source : Auto Daily, 21/02/2022


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