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Lifelong Learning: How I Became a Communicator of German Energy Policy

By Craig Morris | Published: April 3, 2018

How do you become an energy consultant specializing in German policy? A degree in engineering or policy science might sound better than one in German, but being steeped in German history and culture, not to mention fluent in the language, has its benefits.

First, my studies got me to Germany after finishing my master's degree (and two summers at Waldsee in 1991 and 1992). I initially came to Freiburg for a year-long exchange. Energy issues grabbed my attention. For instance, when the local football club, SC Freiburg, rose up to the premiere Bundesliga (and beat Bayern München), the old stadium needed expanding. Those who invested in the new solar roof on the stadium got season tickets first. Football fans wanted renewables—that fascinated me!

Looking back, my life can be divided roughly into five-year sections since graduation: teaching English at the University of Freiburg, singing jazz (here's a solo from German TV in 2000, which a million people watched), translating and writing in German, translating and writing in English, and working as an energy consultant—where I am now. It’s not a straight line, and the trip is not over.

When the nuclear accident happened in Fukushima in March 2011, I didn’t think that my life was about to change. Nine months before, I had launched the now-defunct website RenewablesInternational.com and was well situated to explain Germany’s energy transition, the Energiewende, to the world in English. The goal formulated in 2008 is to have 60% of all energy consumption covered by renewables by 2050—not just electricity (80% of which would be renewable), but also mobility and heat.

The cover of the book

Arne Jungjohann, then at the Böll Foundation, came across my work and made me an offer. “Renewables International is not an ideal platform for a focus on Germany,” he said. “Let’s create one together.” We went online with an e-book in 2012 and a blog in 2013 at EnergyTransition.org. He and I later published the first history of the Energiewende in 2016: Energy Democracy.

It wasn’t my first book; that honor goes to Zukunftsenergien, which was spun out of a series of blog posts at Heise, Germany’s premier IT publisher. “Energy is not your specialty,” I complained to an editor about a misleading article, “but surely you guys know how electricity works.” His response surprised me: “Wenn Sie es besser können, bitte sehr.” (“If you can do it better, go ahead.”) The publisher was expanding, and energy was a potential new field to add. The editor, Florian Rötzer, and I created the Energie & Klima channel together in 2004. When I suggested that we publish a book with the best articles from that channel, he surprised me again: “you’re going to write it yourself.” He could tell from reader comments to my articles that I was hitting a nerve – but also explaining things correctly.

I don’t have a background in any of this. My bachelor’s degree is in English and German; my master’s degree in Germanic languages and literatures. At the time, I was translating energy texts because I found the content interesting. Once I was known for being knowledgeable, no energy company or institute looking for a translator would ask if I understood their subjects.

Alas, my journalism stint is coming to an end. In April, I join the Renewables Grid Initiative in Berlin, where I will coordinate a scenario for a European grid running on renewables—based on my previous scenario work for Greenpeace and the International Renewable Energy Agency. And as a (ahem) senior-level expert, I am increasingly expected to add a new skill to my set: fundraising. (Yes, they eventually take away all the fun.)

There are still jobs out there that are for life, and I’m not sure I would recommend my path to others. But for many young people today, careers may increasingly look like mine as technology revolutions foreshorten and skill expectations evolve. The late Joseph Campbell said: follow your bliss. That’s important, as money can’t buy you love—but a lack of money can make you miserable. I suppose my career swings are a combination of following my bliss and earning enough so that I don’t have to worry about money.

And then there’s luck. Teaching myself physics, engineering, and energy policy has been hard work, but I’ve also gotten lucky. Without people like Arne and Florian seeing my potential and pushing me, I wouldn’t be where I am. No one who’s successful got there alone. And who knows, maybe I’ll go back to blogging someday—and possibly even singing.

About the Author

A headshot of the author, Craig Morris.

Craig Morris is currently senior fellow at the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies (IASS). In April, he joins the Renewables Grid Initiative (RGI), where he will manage the development of a scenario for a European grid running largely on renewable electricity. Follow him on Twitter: @PPchef.

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