Husum WindEnergy 2012


September 20, 2012

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The opening address at any conference, when positioned properly, always provides an indication of what is foremost in the mind of the industry.

In Copenhagen, Felix Ferlemann wanted the sector to address regulatory, infrastructural and planning uncertainty.

Contrast that with the opening address from Peter Becker, managing director at Husum WindEnergy, where, to the bemused audience members, things couldn’t have been more different.

What was played out in front of the industry was essentially a political spat between two North German states. Husum, a small town in Schleswig-Holstein, and the host for the conference since 1989, is riled that Hamburg is set to launch a competing conference.

The trouble is, the argument for maintaining the conference in Husum grows ever thinner.

Yes, on the one hand, the area was an onshore wind pioneer. Its geography of flat coastal plains meant a rich wind resource and an excellent proving ground for the major turbine manufacturers.

Maybe without Husum and its environs the wind industry wouldn’t be where it is today. Maybe.

Conversely, Hamburg is a booming city, and rapidly becoming an in-vogue destination. And if you’re a developer or an investor, who will only be able to devote one day to attending a conference, being able to fly in and fly out within 12 hours is a significant plus point. Husum is just too far away from a major hub to be able to offer that.

But political in-fighting aside, it’s an indication of a wider industry dichotomy.

Sustainable energy began with a local and regional focus that had its ideological roots in the mantra of Rio in 1992 – ‘think global, act local’.
This allowed the industry to start small and become a pioneer.

But times have changed, and arguably an overwhelmingly regional focus detracts from the wider aims of a sector that is trying to become the next big global industry.

It’s a challenge that is also seriously testing the minds of the politicians.

As policy makers started to turn to the renewable energy industry to try and fix the post-industrial malaise in Western Europe, and to become a new source of fiscal security following the failure of the banking community, it seemed logical to conflate green energy targets with economic growth.

It’s why here in Germany, and back in the UK, that so much is put in store by developing local supply chains or encouraging manufacturers to build new facilities.

On the balance sheet though, this drive to support local economies doesn’t always stack-up.

Asia still offers the lowest overheads, and over time, it will soon start to compete on quality.

Nobody is dismissing the aims of local economic growth as anything but laudable, yet the wind industry can’t solve every post-industrial problem or prop up entire city regions. The industry is still too fragile for that, and at the whim of infirm political commitments to green energy.

Over time, it may well be the case that the industry can support industrial growth on a larger scale, but forcing it into regional hubs may stifle the search for a lower cost base that in the short term the industry needs to remain competitive and sadly prove its case to the politicians.

Husum 2012 has undoubtedly been a success, but the industry can’t stand still and maybe, just maybe, it’s time to move on.

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