Renewable Energy Fosters a Boom in Depressed German State 

By Erik Kirschbaum of Reuters:

ROSTOCK, GERMANY — 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.

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