The energy system should be fit for a future without coal, oil and gas.

The challenge: gigantic.

Headache: inevitable.

The energy transition and everything that goes with it also offers the blank sheet of paper.

The large building blocks may be standing, but there is plenty of room for creative tinkerers in the gaps between them.

For example, why do we harness the power of the sun and wind, but not the waves?

Does a pumped storage power plant only work in the mountains or maybe also at the bottom of a lake?

And what do building blocks have to do with the energy system?

The risk of failure is always part of it.

Not everything that is technically possible is also economically convincing.

Many an idea has literally failed with a bang.

The conditions don't seem to be getting any easier, the innovative spirit has recently died down a bit.

When it comes to alternative energy technology for the local market, it is still German companies and engineers who apply for the most patents.

But the numbers have stagnated for years.

According to the German Patent Office, in 2021 they were even down on the previous year.

1099 patents were filed, in 2012 there were more than twice as many.

Again and again, political decisions and bureaucracy torpedo the joy of innovation.

Laws made for an old energy industry with a few large power plants no longer fit the small-scale, flexible systems that shape visions for the energy future.

It is time to pay more attention to the visionaries, whether they have failed or succeeded.

Thermal in the chimney

This solar power plant was unlike any before or after it.

At the beginning of the 1980s, the updraft power plant set up in Manzanares in the Spanish hinterland was astounding.

The functional principle was simple and technically easy to implement.

In order not to put too much material and money into the test facility paid for by the German taxpayer, the decision was made to use lightweight construction and calculated an operating time of three years.

After that it should be dismantled.

So far the original plan.

The fact that things turned out differently and the power plant was operated much longer should do the idea of ​​building more plants a disservice.

After almost 9000 hours of operation in seven years, the almost 200 meter high "chimney" of this much admired 50-kilowatt system collapsed during a storm.

For years, Jörg Schlaich had to listen to stories about how the plant he and his colleagues in his Stuttgart office had planned collapsed.

The civil engineer Schlaich remained convinced of the advantages of updraft power.

But nobody really wanted to hear the hint that the power plant had done significantly more than planned.

The pictures of the collapsed sheet steel chimney were too spectacular.

Nevertheless, an updraft power plant with 200 megawatts was to follow.

Such a powerful system requires a chimney that is at least 1,000 meters high and 130 meters wide, with turbines in the base.

A closed glass or foil roof with a diameter of seven kilometers is located all around the tower.

Sunlight warms the air under the roof, which then rises through the tower.

The thermals get the turbines running.

Despite his commitment, Jörg Schlaich did not manage to build another large updraft power plant.

Even if there were repeated efforts in Australia, Spain or Namibia.

And it is still unclear whether a partially completed 30-megawatt updraft power plant will ever start up in Jinshawan, China in Inner Mongolia.