Renewable energy has created a gold rush atmosphere in northeastern Germany, the country’s poorhouse, giving the region good jobs and great promise.
The natural resources attracting investors and industry are of a simple variety: wind, sunshine, agricultural products and farm waste like liquid manure.
The rush to tap green resources in the state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania is reminiscent of the frenzies that came with gold or oil discoveries in past centuries. The buzz can be felt in towns and sparkling new factories across the state, which is on the shores of the Baltic.
“Renewable energy has become extremely valuable for our state,” its premier, Erwin Sellering, said during an interview. “It’s just a great opportunity — producing renewable energy and creating manufacturing jobs.”
“From an industrial point of view, we’d been one of Germany’s weaker areas,” he continued. “But the country is abandoning nuclear power. That will work only if there’s a corresponding — and substantial — increase in renewables. It’ll be one of Germany’s most important sectors in the future. We want to be up there leading the way.”
The national government did an about-face on nuclear power after the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear complex in Japan, set off by the earthquake and tsunami on March 11. Germany shut eight nuclear plants and plans to close the remaining nine by 2022.
The country is a world leader in renewable energy and wants an even larger share of the $211 billion global market. A fifth of its electricity comes from renewables, up from 6 percent in 2000, and it aims to increase that to 35 percent in 2020.
There are some clouds on the horizon. State-mandated incentives, which fueled a private investment boom, have been cut, squeezing profit margins in sectors like solar energy.
There have also been delays in expanding and improving the national grid of high-voltage transmission lines from sparsely populated coastal regions like Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania to areas where the power is needed, in the west and south. The German government is working to remove infrastructure bottlenecks, but if the grid is not expanded soon, there could be problems later, when more power from offshore wind starts being produced.
Renewable energies, especially wind energy, are injecting new optimism into Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, reflected in a word that often comes up in conversations with business and political leaders: reindustrialization.
In a state with a seafaring heritage, there are now more jobs in renewable energy than in shipyards: 6,000 jobs at 704 companies, a number expected to reach 22,000 by 2020.
Companies are building, designing, maintaining and operating wind turbines and photovoltaic plants, as well as biomass plants, for which farmers are growing crops and collecting animal waste. There are more than 1,200 wind turbines on land, and a new push into offshore wind energy in the Baltic will further fuel that growth.
Many new jobs are at companies like Nordex, which employs 1,000 in Rostock making lightweight rotor blades — as long as 65 meters, or 215 feet — for wind turbines. Nordex has invested €100 million, or $139 million, in expanding its plant and exports 95 percent of its output.
These are sorely needed, highly skilled jobs in a sparsely populated state whose industrial base was devastated by the economic upheaval that accompanied reunification in 1990.
There were 32,800 jobs in the once bustling shipyards around the port city of Rostock when the Berlin Wall fell in 1989. But most were wiped out when the shipbuilding industry in eastern Germany collapsed in the face of surging labor costs and fierce competition. There are only 3,300 shipyard jobs left, and the industry’s demise epitomized the east’s decline.
Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania became one of the poorest regions in Germany. The jobless rate soared to 20 percent in 2004, double the national average, and the population fell 250,000 to 1.6 million, as many young, well-educated people moved to the more prosperous west in search of jobs. More than 8,000 left the state in 2008, but only 3,500 moved away in 2010.
The prospect that some areas could turn into ghost towns was an explosive issue, but the gloom is lifting, as unemployment has nearly been halved. Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, which had the worst jobless rate among Germany’s 16 states in 2007, now has a lower rate than the states of Berlin and Bremen.
“There’s a new sense of optimism, thanks to sectors such as renewable energy, and the migration westwards was slowed if not completely stopped,” said Edeltraud Günther, a professor of environmental management at the Technical University of Dresden.
Jürgen Trittin, a leader of the Greens in Berlin, said a renewables law drafted by his party in 2000 had proved unexpectedly successful in creating jobs across the east. “All of the east is benefiting from that,” he said. “The jobs growth is going to continue with the push into offshore.”
Germany’s first commercial offshore wind park, Baltic 1 — a €48 million project with 21 turbines made by Siemens and operated by EnBW Energie Baden-Württemberg — began pumping enough power for 53,000 households into the grid in May from 16 kilometers, or 10 miles, north of the coast. By 2013, EnBW aims to complete 80 more offshore wind turbines in the Baltic 2 development, 32 kilometers offshore.
Germany expects to have 25 megawatts of offshore wind energy capacity by 2030, produced by 4,000 wind turbines.
Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania already gets half of its electricity from regenerative sources — nearly four gigawatt-hours, a fivefold increase since 2000. It aims to cover its entire electricity needs by 2017 and then export the surplus to other states. By 2020, it expects to have 12 gigawatt-hours of renewable energy, enough for three million households. The state will then produce enough power for itself and two neighboring states.
“The natural conditions for renewable energy here are good,” said Mr. Sellering, the state’s premier. “The first goal is to cover our own electricity requirements. Then we want to be an energy-exporting state.”
The New York Times