Cross Cultural Learning: To Slovenia and Back Again

In the shadow of the Syrian refugee crisis, I traveled to the Balkans to learn how they’re making progress on creating smart cities of the 21st century.

Earlier this fall, I had the honor and pleasure of participating in the U.S. State Department Professional Fellows Exchange program, through World Chicago and on behalf of Clean Energy Trust. The State Department program brings together emerging leaders from all over the world working in the fields of civic engagement, government and economic growth with their counterparts in the United States. This type of exchange contributes to cross-cultural learning, sharing best practices, and enables citizen diplomacy.

Clean Energy Trust jumped at the chance to participate in the program by first agreeing to be a host organization with World Chicago, a non-profit organization who administers the program locally. They paired us with a wonderful, creative and entrepreneurial journalist from Slovenia.

About Energetika.NET:

Alenka Zumbar is the editor and co-founder of Slovenia’s premiere energy industry news source – ENERGETIKA.NET. They not only cover the Slovenian market, but the whole Balkan region as well. I think of their American counterpart being similar to the excellent new online source, Utility Dive.

With just a handful of staff writers and marketing pros, Alenka and her team do an incredible job knowing the ins and outs of different levels of regulations, utility models, technology, geo-politics – and they even started addressing energy education early by creating a line of picture books for kids!

During Alenka’s visit with us she shared her work, and even contributed to our blog! She also helped us execute some big programs like the first Cleantech Innovation Bridge startup match making event.

EU vs. US – Action on Climate Change: Top Down or Bottom Up (Or Both At The Same Time?) 

One of the themes that was came up again and again was the different between the United States and the European Union with regards to energy industry regulation and mandating reductions in carbon emissions. The E.U. has taken the strongest legislative action it has at its disposal to regulate carbon emissions from its member states. The mandate calls for all member countries to adhere to a 40% reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.

Because this mandate provides a clear, unimpeachable government directive – it drives consensus and planning among energy utilities and companies along the value chain. It removes the need to have an ongoing debate about what level to cut, or who is responsible for meeting the mandate. Because all member countries must hit that target, all of the businesses and government entities are then incentivized to work together to figure out how to maintain profitability. This top-down mandate environment has led to situations like Petrol, Slovenia’s largest fuel provider, to voluntarily seek to transform their business so that 25% of their revenue comes from renewable energy sales.

This is in stark contrast to what we’ve seen play out in the U.S. where the debate is ongoing on whether or how much emissions should be cut (even though the Clean Power Plan and 111D provisions were a positive step, the fact that states are now challenging those rules in court means we’re still a long way off from consensus). The lack of a clear government mandate that local governments and businesses can shape their future profits around, creates a lot more grey area and confusion for how fast the clean energy economy can ramp up.

Grateful to World Chicago and ENERGETIKA.NET:

In addition to spending time in Slovenia, I also attended conferences in Vienna and Zagreb to underscore the important role that regionality and geopolitical realities play in how energy is generated and moved between countries whose borders are so new and at times malleable. I’m so grateful to World Chicago, Energetic.NET, and Clean Energy Trust for the extraordinary experience to learn about energy issues and economic progress in another part of the world.

As the old cities of Europe are preparing to turn themselves into the shining cities of the future through energy efficiency, Internet of Things, data, sensors and all of the new technology now at our disposal to make the world a better place – it’s hard not to think of how the influx of refugees will play a part in this fast-changing system. I hope their skills, energy, and desire to create a better life for their families helps fuel this larger shift throughout Europe.

By Emily Achler | October 30, 2015