A message from Jens Goennemann

Trips back home are always a good opportunity to reflect on differences and similarities between my country of birth, Germany, and the country that was kind enough to adopt my family and I, Australia.

Similar in both places, yet a few decades apart, are the preaching’s of doom and misery that will result from the shift to cleaner energy. I remember the late 1970s when some German industrialists were warning about “hell and handbaskets” after the Greens entered parliaments for the first time. Today, Germany is not only the third largest economy but a powerhouse in its own right when it comes to environmental capabilities paired with customers from all over the world.

Whether in energy transition or other incredible technical challenges, Germany has retained the industrial capability that allows it to respond to almost any challenge.

I thought about such retained capability when I toured one of the many Fraunhofer Institutes the other day, the one for Wind Energy Systems (IWES) at Bremerhaven. Amongst the formidable installations at the IWES was a testing rig able to accommodate turbine blades over 115 metres long, inaugurated in June last year and with manufacturer Vestas as its first user.

As time, materials, engineering, and other things have progressed, so has the size of wind structures, especially offshore. So, too, has demand, and the International Energy Agency has estimated that offshore wind could be worth as much as trillion (US) dollars by 2040.

Germany, which already gets more than half of its energy from renewable sources and over 30 percent from wind alone, started operating its first offshore installation in 2010. It plans to grow capacity to 30 gigawatts by 2030, at which point the goal is to be producing 80 per cent of all power via renewables.

There will be ample challenges to address as offshore wind gains traction as IWES reminds us, including the extreme conditions the structures operate in, seafloor hazards during installation, and of course increased tower and blade sizes.

As I’ve written before, there’s a lot to admire about the Fraunhofer model and the emphasis on applied research rather than early stage research and then stopping short. It’s a hugely successful story going back to 1949. Retained capability for me translates into appreciating the absence of political meddling in how they operate. Policy long-termism across the aisle creates consistency that industry in every country needs to plan properly.

As far as Australia is concerned, we need to scale our industrial capability to tackle challenges of scale to come even close to the ambitious climate targets we have set. This is why the Prime Minister’s announcement yesterday of the Future Made in Australia Act has so much riding on it.

An inspiring speech, a gesture, or media release is only the beginning. The real job must be done by real companies, real entrepreneurs, and real people with real skills getting their hands dirty to keep the environment clean – in concert with Government.

We welcome the Prime Minister’s enthusiasm in manufacturing and the recognition of its importance as a critical capability and prosperity builder. We are encouraged by the PM’s pledge to “take a proactive approach to backing Australia’s comparative advantages”, to look at “how Government procurement can support small business and local manufacturing” all while supporting “small business and start-ups…to diversify our economy and trade”.

The winds of change are well and truly blowing. Let’s lean into it and make it an agent of change and opportunity.