Tag Archives: Renewable Energy

Telling the Renewable Energy Story in Germany and Abroad

Last week I posted about the growth of Germany’s homegrown renewable energy industry. Since then I’ve been working more closely with the energy unit in Waggener Edstrom’s Munich office and have come away with a deeper understanding of PR’s opportunity in renewable energy.

The business case for renewable energy is pretty clear. The global population is growing. As major economies become increasingly developed, their populations will expect first-world living conditions, which includes access to consistent and affordable energy. Most conventional fuel sources—coal, natural gas and oil—are globally traded commodities that are subject to significant, and often unpredictable, price swings that have a sizable impact on the cost of energy.

Both conventional and renewable energy sources have significant upfront capital costs to build a power plant. What sets renewables apart is that they eliminate the cost of a fuel source. As technology continues to improve, the cost of renewable energy is plummeting and in a number of markets is beginning to reach grid parity, where it costs the same or less as conventional energy. In Germany alone, the country’s solar power covered 10 to 50 percent of peak-load power every day during the past 6 months.

WE Munich has been quite successful over the past few years in cultivating a base of renewable energy clients, including Canadian Solar, Kirchner Solar Group and Green City Energy. These clients range from manufacturers to installers, demonstrating the opportunity for telling the renewable energy story across the value chain. At the same time, the office here has been investing in its people to build expertise in the renewables market. WE Munich’s Mareike Lenzen, who has graciously hosted me in the office during my visit here, is a guest lecturer on energy policy in Africa at Munich’s Ludwig-Maximilians-University.

The team’s work with renewable energy clients is getting attention too. Last year the Munich office’s energy team won the 2011 SABRE Award for best EMEA renewable energy campaign as a result of facilitating a strategic partnership between two clients—Green City Energy and RAU. Green City Energy is a renewable energy service provider, while RAU installs acoustic fences that help limit noise pollution. The team in Munich proposed placing solar panels on top of a fence that RAU was developing for Nestle and provided counsel throughout the process, from communicating the benefits of a solar acoustic fence to advising on financial terms of the deal. The project, which otherwise would have been built without the solar installation, resulted in producing enough clean energy to supply 50 households for a year. The ensuing media coverage reached an audience of over 2.7 million people.

As my time here in Munich comes to an end, I’m looking forward to returning to Seattle with the knowledge I’ve gained here working alongside our energy team. They are clearly passionate about renewable energy and have developed some pretty impressive credentials working for clients here in Germany. To learn more about what’s inside the energy story, check out this video that the Munich team created in 2010.

When you look at the market potential, we’re still at the prologue of the renewable energy story. WE’s Global Exchange has been a great opportunity to learn more about that story and understand what to expect in the upcoming chapters.

This post was originally published at WaggenerEdstrom.com.

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Hergestellt in Deutschland: Germany’s Homegrown Renewable Energy

When you take the train in to downtown Munich from the airport, one of the first things you notice is the solar panels dotting rooftops.

For an American who follows renewable energy issues, coming to Germany is like stepping into the future. In the U.S. total solar generation capacity is less than 0.1 percent. In Germany it is already 10 percent of the country’s base load—and 75 percent of that comes from solar panels on people’s homes and businesses. Those rooftop panels or ground-mounted solar units provide electricity directly to a home or business. And when there’s excess capacity, residents are able to sell electricity back into the electric grid at a fixed rate—often up to a 30 percent profit. How’s that for self-reliance and entrepreneurship?

The rapid growth of solar energy in Germany is largely the result of the country’s feed-in tariff. (It’s certainly not because of the number of sunny days; Germany gets roughly as much sun as Seattle and Portland.) A feed-in tariff is a government policy that encourages the growth of a new energy technology. Producers of electricity using certain technologies—like solar, wind and biomass—are guaranteed a certain price for electricity generated for 20 years following installation.

For the average German homeowner, that means they can install rooftop solar—at an average cost of 25,000 euros—and often pay it off in 10 years. The remaining 10 years on the feed-in tariff can be pure profit for the homeowner, netting an overall profit of up to 30 percent. Each year the feed-in tariff goes down by a scheduled amount until a point in the future when solar energy is expected to be cost competitive with electricity from the grid (often natural gas or nuclear). That’s already happened in southern Italy, where the cost of solar energy has become equal to energy from conventional sources.

The success of solar energy can also be attributed to Germans’ preference for products that are hergestellt in Deutschland, or made in Germany. The solar industry in Germany encompasses manufacturing, installation, maintenance, sales and marketing, creating jobs at all levels of the economy—with more than 380,000 jobs in the sector last year. Companies at all levels of the solar value chain—from photovoltaic panel manufacturers to installers—need help telling their story.

While the German industry has experienced some hiccups due to global competition, the solar industry as a whole is here to stay. Germany plans to meet 35 percent of its electricity consumption needs in 2020 with renewable energy. Thirty U.S. states, from Washington to Virginia, have passed legislation mandating that renewable energy account for 15 percent or more of consumption. It’s been exciting to learn more about the industry in a place where it’s been so successful and get a sense of the industry’s potential to grow in the U.S. and globally.

This post was originally published on WaggenerEdstrom.com. Special thanks to WE Munich’s Mareike Lenzen for some of the data points included in this post.

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An American in Munich

I’m nearing the end of my second day in the Munich office as part of Global Exchange. Munich itself has been stunning—modern and historical at once. After subsisting on a diet of Bavarian sausage and beer for my first two days, I’ve made the transition to pasta and salad. And that’s good news because Munich is home to a very large Italian community—after all, it’s only 160 kilometers (100 miles) from Italy’s northern border—with a trattoria on nearly every corner. It’s also evident how much Munich is a compact city. I’ve heard it described more than once as like a village—a village that happens to be home to 1.3 million residents and the global headquarters of BMW, Siemens and Allianz.

And don’t forget to look out for bikes! Bicycle commuting in Munich is everywhere, accounting for 14% of all traffic. In the central city nearly every street has dedicated bike lanes set apart from auto traffic, often with the bike lane sharing half the sidewalk with pedestrians. It’s not uncommon to see hundreds of bikes parked outside a U-Bahn station. In fact, most cyclists don’t bother wearing helmets given how prevalent biking is here.

This Monday also marked the beginning of the new Munich office with the combined forces of WE Munich and Patzer PR. I’m told that the former WE office here was in a converted apartment which, while it had lovely fin de siècle chandeliers, never quite felt like a full office. WE München has now arrived. The new office is beautiful—a loft-like space with glass walls everywhere. It’s in a neighborhood full of other marketing agencies. I knew I was in the right place on my first day when I walked into the courtyard where the office is located and saw a red Mini Cooper suspended upside down from a skybridge.

The team here in Munich has been incredibly gracious toward me, especially with seamlessly switching to perfectly fluent English whenever I’m around. (In fact, most of the people I’ve spoken with have three or more languages.) We talked about how compact and tightly connected markets are in the Europe compared to the U.S.—the longest flight in Germany is 1 hour and a 2-hour flight gets you outside Europe. They in turn were struck by the distances between WE’s U.S. offices and how we operate differently from our presence here in Europe.

Over the next few days I’m going to continue sharing what I’m learning here. Look for a post soon on the renewable energy industry in Germany and the opportunity for communications. Until then, tschüss!

This post was originally published at WaggenerEdstrom.com.

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Leaving on a Jet Plane for Global Exchange

Tomorrow I get on a plane and fly halfway around the world from Seattle to Munich. On Tuesday I walk into Waggener Edstrom’s brand new Munich office—the office doubled in size following our purchase of healthcare PR firm Patzer earlier this year—for a two-week visit as part of WE’s Global Exchange program. While there I’ll work alongside our account team focused on renewable energy and get an inside look at how communications professionals ply their trade in Germany.

The Global Exchange program started a little over five years ago as an opportunity to create stronger ties across our offices around the world. A small handful of people participated in the first year program—and this year it’s expanded to 18 of us in 10 offices, from Beijing to Johannesburg and from San Francisco to London. For an agency with Northwest roots and a global footprint, the opportunity to go on Global Exchange allows WE employees to better understand the work that WE does on an international scale.

Why Munich? When applying for the exchange, I selected Munich in large part because it’s an exciting time to be in Germany. Over the past 20 years Germany has instituted economic policies that have helped grow one of the largest solar energy industries in the world—in May solar energy accounted for 10% of Germany’s electricity consumption, a 40% increase over May of 2011. Some of WE’s key clients in our Munich office are leading solar energy companies. For someone whose communications work focuses on supporting environmental sustainability for clients like Microsoft, it’s a great opportunity to see first-hand how renewable energy is succeeding in the marketplace. After its strong economy largely weathered the global recession of the past four years, Germany is now in a position to play an important role in deciding the future of the euro zone, making it a fascinating place for an American like myself to learn about doing business globally.

Watch WaggenerEdstrom.com over the next two weeks for updates from me on the ground in Munich. I’ll be writing about what I’m learning from our colleagues in Munich and the broader business landscape in Germany. Look for my first dispatch from Munich early next week!

This post was originally published on WaggenerEdstrom.com.

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