“Changing Direction – The Right Way!”

Germany’s engineers are some of the best in the world and thanks to their expertise we’re a global leader in exports. However, this position is at risk, as Germany threatens to fall behind in the digital and renewable energies revolution. And that’s despite the fact that our country is considered the initiator of the energy transition.

Missed Opportunities

Germany threatens to fall behind in the digital and renewable energies revolution, Picutre: Fotolia
Germany threatens to fall behind in the digital and renewable energies revolution, Picutre: Fotolia

Are we repeating a familiar pattern? The first computer was built by the German Konrad Zuse and German companies were at the forefront of the development of semiconductors and integrated circuits for some time. But an iPhone made in Germany? Not a chance. When it comes to linking hardware and software with exciting innovations, Google, Apple, and Microsoft are the dominating players.

From the Driver’s Seat to the Back Seat

Once again, we’re allowing ourselves to be forced out of the driver’s seat and into the back seat. We’re currently in the middle of the biggest technological revolution since the introduction of computers and the Internet. And Germany’s engineers helped to get the ball rolling, developing photovoltaic systems, wind power, and storage technologies and making them suitable for the mass market. Our energy and transportation are becoming more and more renewable and digital. Brand-new business areas and products are emerging.
If more energy is to be produced in networks comprising households, companies and cities, there need to be, for instance, “smart” companies that understand IT and energy in equal measure, providing apps, IT platforms and smart meters for optimal distribution of local energy. Where will the new players come from? Are we ready in Germany? Or are others going to reap the benefits once again?

Changing Direction

If that’s the way it happens, it won’t be due to a lack of ideas, as there have always been plenty of those. Unfortunately, they fall by the wayside at the level of management and supervisory boards at many companies, particularly in the automotive and energy industries. The majority of top managers still think in terms of fossil fuels. They try to squeeze every last ounce of efficiency out of their antiquated technologies – as sadly demonstrated by the Garzweiler surface mine and “Dieselgate” at Volkswagen. Energy companies are lobbying for state subsidies for coal in Berlin. And the heads of the automotive industry are fighting more stringent exhaust emission standards in Brussels. The bulk of the research and marketing budget is still going to internal combustion engines rather than consistently promoting electric vehicles. There are better ways to “change direction.”

We Need a New Company Culture

Companies such as Tesla demonstrate how the global energy transition can be turned into opportunities with a new way of thinking. The Californians not only developing stylish electric cars – they are also preparing to revolutionize the storage market. We have the capital and the intelligent minds in Germany. But that’s not enough. If we don’t want to miss the boat, we’re going to need a new company culture. The short trips to Silicon Valley currently popular among many managers aren’t going to cut it. A fundamental transition is going to require flatter hierarchies in which employees are more welcome to present their ideas. Investments in innovation are more profitable when the risk requires courage. It’s not about avoiding mistakes, but making them faster than everyone else and learning from them. The role model needs to be Google’s culture of mistakes rather than Volkswagen’s culture of fear.
Germany has long been a country of inventors. And still is to this day. We believe that, if we’re willing – including at top management levels – to open ourselves to the reality of a mobile world of digital and renewable energies, courageously promote the energy transition, and create an innovation-oriented company culture, we can still be a global leader in exports 20 years from now.
Heiko v. Tschischwitz is CEO of LichtBlick. Eberhard Brandes is CEO of WWF.

LichtBlick and WWF are confident that a swift transition from fossil-nuclear power to renewable energies in the electricity, heating, and transportation sectors will provide the essential foundation for climate protection, a low-risk energy supply, and Germany’s competitiveness in the decades to come. We want to pool our strengths and together accelerate the energy transition. You can find more information and energy transition references on our shared website.

This article appeared for the first time in Die Welt on October 22, 2015.

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