Karolina Atspodina, a Ukrainian tech entrepreneur who launched We Do Solar in Berlin with one of her company’s solar panels. Attspodina’s work is part of a nationwide effort to get Germans to use less energy and reduce their dependence on Russian oil.

By Marlena Waldhausen for NPR


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By Marlena Waldhausen for NPR

Karolina Atspodina, a Ukrainian tech entrepreneur who launched We Do Solar in Berlin with one of her company’s solar panels. Attspodina’s work is part of a nationwide effort to get Germans to use less energy and reduce their dependence on Russian oil.

By Marlena Waldhausen for NPR

There is no larger industrialized country in the world that is more dependent on Russian energy sources than Germany.

Natural gas, mainly from Russia, is used to power the country’s manufacturing sector, and it heats nearly half of the country’s households.

For Berlin-based entrepreneur Karolina Atspodina, this is a particularly disturbing reality. when the European energy crisis showed how much Germany needed Russian oil and gas exports just to function.

“I’m very disappointed,” said 34-year-old Atspodina, who was born in Ukraine. “And not only me. Many people. How could we get to the point where we are so dependent on someone else, especially Russia?”

Last year Atspodina co-founded a company to make it possible for Germans to rely a little less on Russian energy: it sells solar panels that can be installed on apartment balconies and in garages.

Here’s how it works: Solar panels collect energy from the sun, which is then directed to a device known as a microinverter that plugs into an electrical outlet. The energy from the panels then becomes the primary energy source for the household, overtaking electricity from the grid.

Karolina Atspodina shows a microinverter attached to We Care’s solar panels. The microinverter plugs into an electrical outlet, and the energy from the panels becomes the primary source of energy for the household, overtaking electricity from the grid.

By Marlena Waldhausen for NPR


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By Marlena Waldhausen for NPR

Karolina Atspodina shows a microinverter attached to We Care’s solar panels. The microinverter plugs into an electrical outlet, and the energy from the panels becomes the primary source of energy for the household, overtaking electricity from the grid.

By Marlena Waldhausen for NPR

By the most optimistic standards, its solar panels can save residents up to 25% on utility bills.

When Putin’s forces invaded Ukraine earlier this year, her crusade against Germany’s dependence on Russian oil and gas became even more personal.

“I see my people dying at home. I still have family and friends,” Atspodina said.

Meanwhile, other Germans understood what the invasion meant prices for energy at home will soon rise.

According to her, the war increased sales of her solar panels by 70%.

“I would like this to never happen, but everyone really understood in a new way that we need to be more independent in terms of energy,” she said.

Now she is racing to keep up. Although regulations limit the amount of energy her solar panels can generate, she has 3,000 orders she is currently trying to fulfill.

“It’s a way for you to actually reduce your energy bills, but also reduce your CO2 emissions and help our climate crisis and obviously help the fact that we’re dependent on Russian gas,” she said.

Dimmed lights across the country to save energy

Across Germany, the government is taking its own measures to try to reduce energy consumption: dimming the lights in public places; reduction of heating of public swimming pools; turning off water fountains — some cities are even considering turning off traffic lights in sparsely populated areas.

A violinist plays in front of the dark Altes Palais (Old Palace) with the facade lights off on July 27 in Berlin. The Department of Environmental Protection of the Berlin Senate has ordered to turn off the illumination of the city’s buildings and landmarks in order to save energy.

Omer Messinger/Getty Images


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A violinist plays in front of the dark Altes Palais (Old Palace) with the facade lights off on July 27 in Berlin. The Department of Environmental Protection of the Berlin Senate has ordered the lighting of buildings and landmarks to be turned off in order to save energy.

Omer Messinger/Getty Images

In response to Western sanctions, Russia is gradually reducing gas supplies to Europe. The crucial Nord Stream 1 gas pipeline is currently sending only 20% of its capacity to Europe — with some fearing that Russia will completely shut off the taps this winter.

That would make the painful energy crisis even worse, said Fabian Ronningen, senior analyst at Rystad Energy.

“The energy crisis will last as long as prices are very high and Germany will depend on Russian gas, which will not be a short-term thing,” he said.

We Do Solar’s sharp sales growth, according to Roningen, is due to purchases of residential solar panels, which are increasing across Germany in response to the energy crisis.

Solar energy now accounts for about 9% of Germany’s electricity consumption. Ronningen said residents installing more solar modules on balconies and rooftops is a welcome development, but there is no simple solution to the crisis.

“Consumers have to deal with these prices this winter and next year as well,” he said.

Solar electricity is a boon for some, unavailable to others

In Berlin, one of Attspodina’s customers, 40-year-old Leo von Bismarck, a technology entrepreneur, recently installed solar panels on his parents’ house in the upscale district of Mitte.

Looking at the eight black panels Attached to the outside of the balcony, von Bismarck said they were attractive because they acted as a privacy screen. He is also pleased with the cost savings.

A We Do Solar solar panel in use hangs on a balcony (top left) in Berlin on August 18.

By Marlena Waldhausen for NPR


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By Marlena Waldhausen for NPR

A We Do Solar solar panel in use hangs on a balcony (top left) in Berlin on August 18.

By Marlena Waldhausen for NPR

“Some people are just paralyzed by the desire to do something, but they don’t know how to do it,” he said. “And it really is plug and play, to be honest. It really is that simple.”

Easy for von Bismarck to say. For many Germans, it is 1,300 euros, The cost of buying the cheapest set of solar modules is simply out of reach.

Like Lydia Dietsch, a graphic designer from Berlin, who said she couldn’t afford them.

At the same time, her utility bill has recently been unpleasant sticker shock. She lives with her partner and roommate.

“The prices have already gone up from about €91 a month to €410 a month,” she said.

With solar panels unavailable and her electricity bills skyrocketing, Dietsch takes shorter showers. Sometimes a cold shower.

“I try to avoid cooking in a gas oven and use other things instead,” she added. “We have a grill.”

As she prepares for the coming winter, Dietsch said she may have no choice but to shiver through it.

“I’m afraid of winter. I don’t know what’s going to happen,” she said. “I guess we’ll just be in cold storage.”

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