The energy question has come to the fore in Germany since last year’s Fukushima disaster, after which Germany shut down half its nuclear reactors overnight and committed to phasing out the rest over the next decade. The panelists largely agreed with Germany’s aggressive push for renewable energy but questioned the spontaneous nature of the government’s energy decisions.
“Even we in energy-intensive industries support that Germany is an innovative leader in alternative energies,” said Heinrich Hiesinger, chairman of the executive board of the steel producer ThyssenKrupp AG. But the nuclear phaseout is “too fast.” “In Europe, Germany has the highest costs for energy-serving industry,” he continued. “There is little room to further increase if we want to compete on a level playing field.”
Geoffrey Merszei, executive vice president of the Dow Chemical Company and president of Dow Europe, agreed that the nuclear phaseout may have been misguided, and added that the unpredictability of German energy policy was undermining investment. “It’s very difficult for a company like Dow to invest in any location if there isn’t a clear energy policy,” he said.
But Katharina Lichtner, managing director of Capital Dynamics, stressed that the price of conventional energy sources still did not reflect the costs they impose on society. “Where we’re suffering is that clean energy is internalizing the costs where conventional energies are still allowed to externalize their costs,” she said.
Sustainability, said the panelists, goes beyond environmental preservation; these days, it’s also necessary for recruitment. “Young people will no longer join a company that doesn’t have a very clear roadmap for sustainability,” said Hiesinger, who noted that while his company isn’t known for renewable energy, the bearings in nine out of ten windmills are made by ThyssenKrupp.