An Interview with Theresia Vogel, Head of The Austrian Climate Fund
KWHCoin’s Director of Creative Content, Noah Klein had the opportunity to talk with Theresia Vogel, Head of The Austrian Climate Fund to discuss energy grids, technology and the future. Read the transcripts of the interview below.
NOAH: Can you tell me a little bit about yourself and what you do?
THERESIA: As you’ve mentioned, I’m a director… one of the two directors of—this is a governmental fund and our task is, at least, given by law and it says we have to boost the energy transition and we have to do something against climate change in Austria. So this is our task in general.
I’m a civil engineer by education, but I have done a lot, during the last five years, in waste management sustainability, energy technologies and now, in funding of research in technology innovation.
NOAH: Fantastic. And what are some projects you’re currently working on in Austria? Is it just in Austria or is it elsewhere in the world as well?
THERESIA: Well, it’s just a national purpose. It’s given by law also. It’s not given by my interest. But… it’s like that. We have a budget given by the government. It’s an annual budget. It’s about 100 to 120 million Euros. So we promote an annual program which brings out some activities… funding activities for our special topics.
NOAH: So how are new technologies paving the way for innovation in the green energy industry in Austria?
THERESIA: I think they are doing a good way. We have a good project on energy technology research. And we have also a good market situation in Austria. Main producers of energy, of technologies dealing with renewable energy are very small and medium-sized enterprises. So the big ones are more interested in topics like smart grid, smart interest intelligent transport systems and that stuff. So it’s more big interest etc. The smaller produces their… producing things like PV, [unclear] tunnel facilities, about [unclear], about wind power also. So they are doing a good way but there could done more. And it will depend in Austria. Then it will come out in climate and energies by 2018. And we hope that there will be a good framework for the development of renewables in Austria.
NOAH: How can people do more in Austria and all over the world?
THERESIA: I think we have some good automatic programs. We have some regional programs where people are involved in the procedures; where people are trained also to get in touch with renewables where we also invite experts to talk to citizens.
So I think they are becoming more and more interested in technology. They are open for innovation. During the last 10 years, we had a good program. It was called “PV-Initiative” with very small-scale PV installations on private buildings up to 5-kilowatt peak so it’s a small one. But we have installed more than 50,000 PV.
So it was photovoltaics. So it was called “PV [unclear]”. So we have installed more than 50,000 of these installations on the roofs of private buildings. So people are interested in that. They have seen it. And it’s about their neighbors talking, you know, where it’s about [unclear] and how they also want to have that.
So this is really good for the communities to think it’s… can look at that facilities and can change their experience. I think the same will have all these electro-vehicles or cars… electric cars. We also have the funding for these cars for the private sector. And they are—well they are coming up. Now it’s growing.
NOAH: What do you think about the concept of building microgrids, creating smart cities, empowering poor communities and using peer-to-peer energy transfer to do that — decentralized energy trading?
THERESIA: I mean, microgrids topic is not that big in Austria by that time because we have a very excellent grids. You know, distribution grids and all the stuff. They are good in Austria. You cannot convert so they’re like it’s fixed. I have seen them. So it’s really different.
But there are some communities at the borders of the grid. They are interested but most of them don’t want to get off-grid. As a result, there is—They want to do something that’s renewables but they do not want to really go off-grid with their community. But they are interested in renewables.
I think there’s also an upcoming topic now of this consumer automatic where people want to produce energy by themselves. They want to also use their own energy. And if there is a possibility, to get out some money. Then they are interested. But it has not [unclear] a lot of work done by themselves so that– It’s interesting if you have enterprises also which are [unclear].
NOAH: Did you look up a bit about KWHCoin? We’re currently in Puerto Rico. That’s what I’m doing here. I’m working with the company. We’re trying to be a green energy company of the future. And we were on the ground—in rural communities, in the mountains where people have no lights, no food, no water still from the hurricanes. For some examples, you know, we’re talking about building smart cities and microgrids and empowering people with cryptocurrency and blockchain to sort of take control of their own energy futures. It’s a very interesting concept because you’re seeing—from what I saw here, there are people who have nothing and are literally off-grid. Even though the United States is a First World country, people are living with nothing, with no energy in the remote places, and it’s quite sad. Well what do you think should be done about communities like this? I know this is not in Austria but I know you’re a green energy expert.
THERESIA: I think the most important practice that you have, special level of technology competence, is in their communities. We try to bring in such things in regions. We call it the “Regional Management” which are interested in our case in renewables as well as in some kind of management procedures and all that stuff just to collect information from the people but also to bring information to them and also together, to gather those special small-sized projects. So this could work there also. But they always need… kind of promote in the community or in the globe to bring on projects, to bring them on their way, to manage stuff around them, to inform people about them; to let it grow.
So they give them a small amount of money. But they’re really doing a very good job. They’re bringing together the others. They’re informing them that organizing, let me say, some kind of round table talks. But they’re inviting experts and such stuff. And they have the knowledge about technology also. They can inform people. If they have some questions, they can also have, maybe some [unclear] programs of their stuff. So I think it could also work there. And it’s also easier to do it because then you have a contact person in the region; in the community.
NOAH: You believe people should have control of their own energy and their own energy needs and sort of be able to use their own energy as they see fit?
THERESIA: I think there should be like human rights to access to energy because energy is not only responsible for the sake of heating buildings and for mobility, it’s also very important to get access to information like those—or information networks and to exchange information network. So I think this is a very important point that people have access to energy.
NOAH: So KWHCoin seeks to provide a peer-to-peer decentralized model where people essentially control their own energy and provide smart microgrids in these communities and these remote communities, people on the edges of the grid.
And people essentially are on an app and can use each other as a means of building a community and as a means of getting their own internet with personal hotspots and exchanging energy on this smart virtual grid.
Where do you see a model like that in the future? Where do you see a company like KWHCoin or other blockchain companies in the space with access to different sorts of thinking and different sorts of approaches fitting in in the next few years with the energy shift that’s happening in the world?
THERESIA: To be honest, I think, they have better chances in countries where you don’t have that perfect energy supply at the moment because then people are driven by their needs and then they are willing to try out new things. From the big crowd for Austria, I must say there is… the energy supply companies have a business model and they don’t want to compete. So they’re very, how do I say, sensitive about models.
NOAH: They’re very protective.
THERESIA: They’re very protective, yes. They’re very conflicting. So I think that your customer-to-customer model as well as private-to-private models have chances in reaching where the grid is not so complete. There is a demand for energy. But those supplies, at least on block grid existing. Because if you have a very… on technology-basis, a very… a greater hard work even there is no need for changes, you know?
THERESIA: So I think blockchain in Austria, at the moment, it’s very much driven by the people who are very interested in innovation and also in new technologies. But it’s coming up in the energy field at the moment because more and more people are aware of producing their own energy with their homes, with their space. It’s more in the rural areas.
And I think this courage will come from the rural areas to the cities. Not the other way around – this kind of innovation — because there is space. They have space. They have their interest but they have also their possibilities to change that. So it’s a little bit comparable to developing countries or regions where you want to be.
NOAH: Do you think this is the eventual direction of the world? You’re saying this is going to start in rural communities and expand outwards organically.
THERESIA: I think so. The people are—There’s different in motivations, yeah? In Austria, it’s really about to reduce the personal footprint, yeah?
THERESIA: But… I mean, to be honest, Austria is one of the richest countries in the world. So this is a total different motivation to people who do not have access to energy. But I think they also see the opportunities of microgrids. And also from the point of resilience, it’s a good idea to have more smaller grids which are more sustainable.
NOAH: Okay. And are you excited or do you have a positive outlook for the future to finish this one?
THERESIA: I have a positive outlook because I’m working on that. And I’m [unclear]-driven. I’m very sure about that because I have seen the development here in Austria. For those in Europe and worldwide with the renewables, if you look back 10 years, there has been a tremendous increase of renewables. And even in countries where you didn’t think that it could happen like China because they have a very high pressure on environment so they have to do something, this is really—And we have also become more and more technical opportunities to have new solutions. I’m very sure that things will go on.
NOAH: And what is your message for people who you’re impacting or people who KWHCoin is impacting or people who just want to make a difference in the world and work towards a better future? What’s your message to them?
THERESIA: My special message is always that you get fossil-free because the time for the fossil fuel is not anymore given. We have to think of a fossil-free—and not just that. We have to think of a fossil-free lifestyle and we have to think also of, in Austria especially, of reducing our demand of materials of energy, of everything at least.
It’s not that people [unclear] enough. It’s not so easy to be [unclear] asked to [unclear] minimize what to do.
NOAH: Now we live in a very maximalist society, unfortunately.
THERESIA: But I’m thinking that, for me, the solution will be innovation. Innovative technologies will also be the backbone of this future.
To learn more about The Austrian Climate Fund visit here.