Katharina, why did you decide to work in the field of electromobility?
Even during my studies, it was clear to me that I wanted to pursue a profession in which I could see a deeper meaning. I wanted to invest my time in something that had meaning for society as a whole. I was initially responsible in the field of renewable energy, the trend was just coming up. It just made sense to me that renewables would continue to expand, and I knew something had to happen in this area. My transition to electromobility was seamless: our current company was still a startup at the time and I was one of the first employees here in Munich. I found the topic meaningful and exciting, because at that time I entered an industry that didn't really exist yet.
From renewable energies to electromobility: was that a stark contrast?
No, if you recall the idea under which our company - at that time still called eeMobility - started. The founders didn't want to focus on electromobility per se, but rather promote renewable energies first and foremost. Right from the start, my team and I knew that a shift in mobility could help massively with electricity storage. The challenge with renewables is that electricity generation is not constant, but volatile. This means that when a strong gust of wind comes up or the sun shines, electricity is generated. This happens regardless of whether the electricity is needed or not. There are various approaches at this point: You can put a buffer next to the wind turbine to use the electricity later. But this intermediate storage could theoretically also be an electric car, couldn't it? This gave us the simple idea: Let's provide charging stations for electric company cars.
Why did you guys just focus on company cars?
A company car is used during the day for business and also for private purposes, but at night the car is usually left in the garage. There is an enormous potential here: hardly any electricity is consumed at night because most people are asleep - so the car can charge up. Of course, the ideal solution would be for each building to have its own photovoltaic system on the roof and for surplus photovoltaic electricity to flow directly into the vehicle. That would be the most local and decentralized option, because you use the electricity directly on site. But this solution is only feasible in very few cases, so we use the power grid as additional distribution to run a small "virtual power plant" with electric cars. If we think a bit into the future, we could feed the electricity from the car back into the grid or into our own households. That would be the next step.
You've been at it for a few years now. How has awareness of electromobility and clean energy changed?
When I talked about electromobility in 2015 - whether privately or professionally - I was looked at strangely. I was rather smiled at and not taken seriously, the tenor was still along the lines of, "Oh, that won't start for ten years at the earliest. What are you doing, you lunatics?" The arguments against it were always the same: The electric car was not suitable for the masses, there were no models, the infrastructure was not developed... but in recent years something has changed. The "Fridays for Future" movement started and the diesel affair came up. The awareness and acceptance of electric mobility has grown faster than most initially thought. Now the discussion has even turned into the opposite.
What is the scenario today?
Nowadays, private drivers and companies tend to have to justify the fact that they have not yet switched to electric vehicles. Electromobility has reached the masses and car manufacturers now have models in all price ranges. The charging network is constantly improving. Now people are more likely to find reasons why they are not yet ready. That's quite interesting, you hear embarrassed sentences like "Oh, I just bought my petrol car" or "I drive too many long distances."
Where does this acceptance of electric cars come from?
I think that has rather little to do with idealism or love of the environment. It is not the idealistic approach that has helped the industry, but above all the new CO2 requirements of the European Union. The car industry has to comply with certain CO2 limits every year and the vehicles sold in Europe may only reach a certain CO2 value in total. In other words, the law stipulates exactly how much a car manufacturer is allowed to emit with its fleet in a year - and there have been some leaps downwards in recent years. For example, if a car manufacturer sells a lot of SUVs, it must also sell a lot of smaller, energy-saving models in the same year in order to comply with the limit. For electric vehicles, this value is zero and that lowers the average massively.
What are the consequences of this?
Manufacturers are encouraged to bring environmentally friendly models onto the market so as not to risk any penalties. Of course, this is also marketed positively: just look at the car advertising in 2021. Only electric cars will be advertised, most recently also on the perimeter advertising during the European Football Championship. Such measures will make electric cars attractive even to those who are otherwise not so concerned about environmental protection and climate change. This has been a milestone in our society that has pleased me in recent years. Another factor is, of course, the pressure of the younger generation: the Fridays for Future generation is getting attention, is extremely well informed and is challenging the status quo, seeking discussions with parents, teachers or politicians.
Cue "Fridays for Future": at Mer, we talk about how we're all part of a new movement.
Yes, because it makes sense and is absolutely necessary. It should no longer even be up for discussion that we need to curb the effects of climate change as quickly as possible and rely on clean energy, but this change is difficult. It is going to cost a lot of money in some places and it is going to take effort. I would like to see less questioning of the cause itself and faster action. I saw a daytime news clip a few days ago that aired 20 years ago. There was a natural disaster at the time and under the pictures it said, "These are the consequences of climate change. Now we have to react." I just shook my head because 20 years later we are still having the same discussion. It's happening too slowly and too little.
Why does it deter many people from joining this movement and becoming active?
Change is actually not a problem if you have the chance to plan it and clock it in early. If we had actively approached this transformation 20 years ago, the situation would be much easier for everyone involved. But as soon as you want to rush a change, the discussions start: What does it mean for us? Where will the funds come from? What about the jobs? Do I have to change my life completely? The fear of change characterizes many people - and the insecurity that comes with it. The thought of no longer being able to move freely in the car means a restriction of personal freedom for many people.
Mer offers a sensible alternative without sacrificing anything.
No one's car has to be taken away and everyone can continue to move freely while we do something for the planet. An electric car just has a different drive. "Electric for everyone" - for me and my colleagues, this means that we want to make it possible for everyone to drive electrically. I hope that as many people as possible will recognize the advantages of electric mobility and make a conscious decision to switch. Electric cars are much more fun, the driving experience is exciting - a bit like driving a go-kart. Especially on longer journeys, the quiet operation is more pleasant. And if you charge with green electricity, you can drive without a guilty conscience.
We jump into the year 2050: How do we move?
I think the classic concept of mobility of today will no longer exist, but rather a much greater range of local and long-distance public transport. Transport itself will probably be heavily bundled, not only because of the environment, but also for reasons of space and efficiency. My approach would generally be to go not by bans, but by incentives and attractive offers. You can already see what a better mobility concept means in the inner city: the better the public transport on offer, the more likely people are to leave their cars at home. I hope that by 2050 we will have achieved sustainable mobility completely and that we will no longer cause any harm by being mobile and free to move around.