Outstanding! Engagement for the energy transition in Chile

Rainer Schröer has managed IKI projects for the energy transition in Chile for around eight years. He has now received the German Order of Merit for his engagement and his successful project work. 

End of November 2023 at the German Embassy, Santiago de Chile: around 60 guests from the energy sector are in attendance, including representatives of the country’s ministries, businesses and trade associations. The current energy minister and his predecessor have also attended. German Ambassador Irmgard Maria Fellner invited these guests to a ceremony to celebrate Chile’s success in its energy transition – and, above all, to honour an expert networker who has supported and accelerated the development of the country in the direction of renewables. This evening, Rainer Schröer will receive the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany. As the head of various projects from the International Climate Initiative (IKI), he has been very successful in initiating technical innovations for the energy transition in Chile and assisting in their implementation. 

The award recognises the personal achievements of Schröer himself and simultaneously offers a good opportunity to use the example of energy projects in Chile to describe the approach taken by the IKI to activities in partner countries – which also continue after project work is complete.

Creating acceptance for renewables

Round table of the energy sector on renewable energies (December 2014)

As Rainer Schröer has himself described it, Chile is “a paradise for renewable energy sources, offering great potential for solar and wind, as well as for geothermal, biomass and tidal power.” Despite this, renewables were not exactly in great shape when he started IKI project work here in 2014. In particular, staff at the Energy Ministry and network operators were sceptical when they heard the phrases ‘energy transition’ or ‘climate change mitigation’. “Then as now, the argument was that electricity must be reliable, inexpensive and technology-neutral – and there was no budget for subsidies.”

First and foremost, his task was to convince people: “We worked closely with the ministries as well as with private enterprise – this approach was part of our IKI model.” The projects provided a steady stream of in-depth technical support, answering questions about the cost-effective deployment of renewables that could perform well in various scenarios. As one example, these questions were answered with a highly detailed analysis of potential for the country as a whole, which ultimately formed the basis for Chile’s energy policy.

A particularly hard nut to crack among energy sector actors was found with the network operators, clearly unhappy about the dynamic nature of renewables such as wind and solar. “But we managed to calm their nerves, too,” comments Schröer. “As one example, we invited them to visit Germany, where we put them together with seasoned network operators to achieve a highly constructive dialogue about practical experience.” Today, thanks to the IKI project, the national Chilean network operator utilises a powerful forecasting system for renewables that gives it optimal control of the power grid.

In the first couple of years, efforts therefore concentrated on chipping away at resistance to renewables while designing the regulatory framework for the energy transition. “We were involved in work on more than 34 regulations, standards and drafts for energy legislation,” Schröer recalls. “We got everyone around the same table in Chile, those pro and contra the energy transition – truly a first for South America as a whole.”

Pursuing new ideas and finding the right partners

Rainer Schröer describes the IKI projects as “hugely valuable for the energy transition in Chile.” Thanks to this work, many new ideas could be introduced, creating the foundation for a reorientation of the energy sector. Schröer found project flexibility to be especially important, as it provided space for creative work, insights and approaches. Another important factor for success is how the IKI teams up with local partners to create a solid basis of trust – and this also extends into its international work: 

For specific technical analyses required in the energy sector, for example, Chilean universities proved to be key project partners, as this allowed them to develop local know-how and become increasingly specialised in energy topics as time went on. 

For the topic of green hydrogen, Rainer Schröer turned instead to international companies: “We were pioneers here, picking up on the topic as far back as 2014 and realising it would be an innovative solution for Chile.” More than 20 of the international and local companies currently realising hydrogen projects in Chile have received support from IKI project activities. 

A third example of the flexibility of IKI projects, adaptation to the respective situation in the country and the diversity of partners involved is the collaboration with the Chilean mining sector. 

“Mining is not only a key national industry but is also extremely important for the global energy transition,” explains Rainer Schröer. “Chile supplies around 40 percent of the copper that is processed worldwide. And copper is a material that is needed for the energy transition – in wind turbines, power lines or electric motors.” The same applies for lithium, which is required for the production of power storage solutions and batteries for electric vehicles. Schröer sees this as two sides of the same coin: “If Chile can produce green raw materials for the energy transition sustainably, this is a strong argument for change in the industry – and, ultimately, a win for climate change mitigation.” Schröer points to the fact that large copper mines in Chile have now even become drivers of the energy transition, with long-term electricity supply contracts from coal power stations terminated and replaced by supply contracts with renewables. 

What’s the plan after the end of the IKI projects?

Satellite image of South America's first CSP plant in the Atacama Desert

With the IKI projects on the energy transition now wrapped up, the question is, as always: what have they achieved and what does the future hold? In Chile, Rainer Schröer believes that the projects have successfully created the basis for the energy transition, with the country now being a pioneer within its region. Time for a few facts and figures.

  • In terms of the expansion of renewable power, statistics show that their proportion of the country’s energy mix has risen continuously since 2014: today, more than 60 percent of Chilean electricity is generated from renewable sources. IKI projects have been instrumental in laying the groundwork for this success. 
  • The national hydrogen strategy, which involved the active participation of Schröer and his team, has been in place since 2020 and there are now more than 60 commercial projects on the topic. 
  • The country plans to complete its fossil fuel phase-out by 2040 and has already shut down several coal power stations. From 2018 to 2019, Rainer Schröer was the only non-Chilean working on the National Coal Commission and contributing his expertise.
  • Operational in Chile since 2021, Cerro Dominador is the first CSP (Concentrated Solar Power) power station in South America, and its 10,500 mirrors and 252 m tower generate renewable power around the clock.
  • Overall, many commercial projects have got off the ground in Chile, which pick up on and continue the IKI’s ideas and initiatives. One such is the ALBA project. In this project, a US company is completing the first conversion of a coal power station to a thermal energy storage unit, which will be charged with renewable electricity, and can then supply renewable energy in connection with solar and wind power around the clock.

Publication: Chile - Beacon for the Global Energy Transition

Cross-border effects

Rainer Schröer highlights the fact that the IKI’s energy transition projects have had an effect beyond the borders of Chile itself: “We were in contact with more than 20 other countries – many of the regulatory frameworks, methods or legislation we helped to draft in Chile have been adopted directly by other Spanish speaking countries.” 

This international dialogue has focused on the topics of renewable energy, fossil fuel phase-out, coal power plant conversions, the hydrogen economy and energy in mining. On the topic of hydrogen, the regional H2LAC platform was initiated and set up with the participation of 13 countries in Latin America.

In addition, some of those on the Chilean side are now established energy transition experts, able to share their experience and knowledge from IKI projects with other countries. 

The German Order of Merit

So how does one end up receiving the German Order of Merit? “When the embassy got in contact with me, I first thought this was a classic example of ‘fake news’,” Schröer recalls. But then he adds: “In the projects I managed personally, I always found my work with both the embassies and the German Chambers of Commerce Abroad to be straightforward and productive.” He maintained close contact with the German Embassy in Chile, for example, which was always well-informed about Schröer’s work on the country’s energy transition.

The award honours Rainer Schröer’s achievements for the Chilean energy transition while simultaneously marking the end of his activities both for GIZ and the IKI. In the meantime, he has since entered retirement – or, put another way: he has again returned to his work as a freelance consultant. Schröer: “I’ve gained so much experience with these projects that I’d simply like to share my expertise with others.”

It’s certainly in demand: no sooner had he left GIZ, enquiries from around 15 countries were already dropping into his inbox. 

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Rainer Schröer set up and managed the ‘4e Chile’ energy programme cluster for Deutsche Gesellschaft für internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) in Chile from 2014 to 2022. The programme consolidated various IKI projects that have worked to accelerate the country’s energy transition. 

Schröer joined GIZ in 2010: based in El Salvador, he first worked on establishing the energy portfolio for Central America. 

Previously, the physicist and engineer had worked for around 20 years in Brazil, running his own consultancy practice that offered investment advice for German businesses in Brazil as well as services for Brazilian mining companies. 

The IKI in Chile

Since the formation of the funding programme in 2008, the IKI has financed around 40 projects in Chile. This funding has focused in particular on ‘mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions’ as a topic. The majority of the energy transition projects in the country have been and are being implemented by Deutsche Gesellschaft für internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ).

As part of this bilateral cooperation, the IKI is currently funding two projects in Chile that are working on renewable energy sources and electromobility. Chile is also represented in three ongoing regional IKI projects, which are implementing measures relating to green finance products, climate-compatible fiscal policy and protection for migratory marine megafauna.

Chile has no longer been on the ODA list since 2017, so new project funding via the IKI's ideas competitions is no longer possible.

Click here for all IKI projects in Chile

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