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Ever get an unsettling feeling when you open your fridge and hear its rhythmic hum?
When you hail a taxi, does your mind wander much beyond the question of how quickly it will take you where you want to go?
When you’re driving around the city looking for a parking space, frustration increasing by the second, do you ever think to yourself – there must be a better way?
These might seem like odd questions, but to the innovators behind some of Germany’s greenest
The ideas are flowing.While the ideas are flowing in multiple areas, the scene is not as well structured, inter-connected, financially sound or thriving as it could be. Yet, plenty of new, eco-friendly start-ups are already making an impact – and may do so even more within the future. Given they receive the support they need.
But to understand what it is they need, it helps to know what they want to achieve. We profile 3 of the most exciting currently operating in Germany to look at what they have done so far – and take a look at where they might go.
Many people are always going in the same direction, yet they never share. That makes no sense in a big city. In our opinion, it’s ethically wrong to sit down and drive in a big engine vehicle and to sit alone in a car where space on the street is very valuable and already at a premium – it makes no sense.
Germany’s highly publicized energiewende targets are laudable but also
The concept is that passengers book a ride, much like a taxi service, to their chosen destination and using pooling technology, passengers travelling in the same direction at the same time are grouped together and picked up. That in itself is eco-friendly while another significant aspect is that CleverShuttle uses only electric, hydrogen or plug-in vehicles. The EV element aside, it’s an idea not that far away from Germany’s much loved
CleverShuttle’s model has attracted the interest of some municipal public transport systems, eager to incorporate it into their own services. Just this week, the company agreed a deal with Stadtverkehr Lübeck, the public transport service for the northern German city of Lübeck, which will soon begin providing some public transport shuttle services via CleverShuttle.
So the idea is you would open an app and book a public transport shuttle rather than wait for the bus to just come and get you. The current public transport system is generally not efficient and particularly at night time, these services could be replaced with smaller vehicles that serve on demand.
While carsharing and a wholesale transition to electric or alternative fuel vehicles are the most straightforward route to fewer emissions, German streets are still clogged with petrol and diesel cars. »A figure that is regularly cited in studies is that 30% of city traffic is ›search and park traffic‹ – people driving
The thinking behind his Cologne based company is to get these cars to spend as little time on the road as possible. Evopark is a live parking app which displays parking information to users as they drive around.
With a base of 30,000 regular users established, Evopark’s system – which is based on identifying and partnering with car parks in key locations within a city – informs users of available parking spots and allows them to enter and exit the car park smoothly through recognition technology.
Focusing exclusively on off-street parking in
Transport is an obvious focus of energy transition – but refrigeration? In his new book
In that respect, Coolar is an interesting example of a German start-up that has obvious potential to make a difference. Founded in 2016, their refrigeration system aims to provide sustainable refrigeration solutions for areas around the world with no or limited electricity supplies. Such refrigeration solutions are particularly important in the aftermath of natural disasters, when medicine and food need to be stored appropriately, but are also useful in remote areas with expensive or no power at all. This way, they could save lives: In developing countries, up to 75% of vaccines lose or weaken their curative effect because they are
Their refrigeration system is basically powered by warm water generated through solar energy, which can then be easily stored. Avoiding the use of moving parts, cooling fluids or lubricants, the company’s
Still a small operation in the early stage of development, it is unclear to what extent Coolar or similar refrigeration systems will operate one day. But if it were to be implemented and function successfully on a wider scale, its eco-friendly status speaks for itself given that it requires no electricity and gives out ten times less CO2 emissions than conventional fridges. This way it might not only be a solution for remote or critical areas – but a way to provide cheap, climate-friendly cooling to billions of people living in developing countries, who are waiting to get their fair share of comfort.
While individual green start-ups in Germany such as the aforementioned trio are developing innovative concepts, the overall green start-up sector in Germany is still relatively underdeveloped, with just 14% of the recognised German start-ups being deemed to be »green«.
What’s the problem?
A 2015 study by the Green Economy Start-Up Monitor (referenced in the previous paragraph) found that while the German economy has developed a strong start-up support system – particularly in Berlin, widely seen as the European start-up capital – programmes specifically catering for firms specialising in environmental sustainability have not been adequately integrated into that system. In other words: There are not enough dedicated government funding programmes, business incubators or relevant competitions for green start-ups.
Dr. Klaus Fichter, one of the authors of the 2015 study, noted some of the unique difficulties facing green start-ups in that report:
Support is increasingly there at government and local government level, both in terms of funding opportunities and in terms of more moral support but the challenge is that as soon as you start negotiations, things slow down too much. So when I would talk to government officials, I would try and advise them to remove the bureaucratic roadblocks and regulations to help everything move better.
Things have moved on since 2015, though. The »Start Up Energy Transition«, a global initiative and award programme driven by dena, the German Energy Agency and supported by the German Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy, aims to create a more connected green start-up
»Connecting« a strand of the German economy as new, diversified, unknown and complex as the green start-up sector will obviously take time.
The German development bank KfW is the world’s biggest clean tech lender.But the potential for its development is obvious: Money is available for clean tech in Germany, and lots of it. A 2015 study from Bloomberg New Energy Finance found that up to the end of 2014, the German development bank KfW was the world’s biggest clean tech lender, giving out loans totalling
Naturally, not much of that money found its way specifically into the green start-up sector in Germany. But the persuasive force of the energiewende culture means that a well-connected German green start-up scene, backed by strong political support, has the potential to become a magnet for capital – which can in turn prompt the growth necessary for small green start-ups to become major players.
Profitability has been a problem, though. A 2016 MIT study found that, compared with start-ups in the software and medical fields, clean tech start-ups in the US performed very poorly from a financial perspective in the period 2006–2011, with over 90% failing to
That kind of figure is hardly going to fill traditionally cautious German business leaders with enthusiasm about the sector, but there are tentative signs that the investment climate for smaller, clean tech innovators is improving. More and more green start-ups are partnering with established industry leaders, well aware of their need to embrace greener business models.
Evopark, the one that is trying to guide you to the next free parking spot, have arrangements with Porsche, Mercedes and AXA Insurance for example. Those companies promote the app to their own employees while just this week, Solarkiosk, who build scalable solar-powered shop-modules for developing countries, announced a climate change partnership with insurance giant Munich RE.
It’s difficult to take a picture of a moving object, and the speed, with which Germany’s green start-up scene is evolving, complicates it to make definitive assessments on its overall well-being. Yet it is clear, that a more organized, inter-connected collective structure, combined with a more refined governmental approach could provide the green start-up sector with what it needs: the extra time, support and resources. So it can attract the kind of funding required to become viable and ideally, profitable.
As is evident to anyone taking even a cursory glance at the German green start-up scene, it’s blossom-time in terms of innovation; ideas will continue to bloom. They just need a little fertilizer every now and then.
This article is part of the project »The solutions lie in Germany«. In the project, »Global Ideas« by the Deutsche Welle and Perspective Daily present solutions to climate change within 3 steps, heading towards the 23. climate change conference in Bonn in November 2017.
Step 1: »Wärmewende in Deutschland – Diese Heizung kannst du guten Gewissens voll aufdrehen« on Perspective Daily and »Smart tech propels Germany’s switch to renewables« on Global Ideas.
Step 2: »Green start-up scene – These German Start-ups will make your life easier« on Perspective Daily and »Engineering the climate — is it a good idea?« on Global Ideas.
Step 3: »Meat replacement products – Time to butcher these 5 myths about fake meat« on Perspective Daily and »Germany, land of blooming soy fields?« on Global Ideas.
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