The Corona crisis has not only temporarily paralysed the production and transport of goods in numerous sectors, but has also affected large parts of the service sector. In order to revive the economy, governments are launching economic stimulus packages at all levels and public debt is being increased. Even the EU plans to borrow on the bond market for the first time. There is broad agreement that the enormous sums of money must also be used to promote future technologies. Only then will it be possible to reduce the impact of our economic activities on the climate. One element is coming into focus as an interesting energy carrier for two reasons at once: green hydrogen! Firstly, it could help fuel cells to achieve a breakthrough in the mobility sector as the second environmentally friendly engine and drivetrain alongside the electric battery. On the other hand, energy generated by wind power plants, for example, can be stored chemically in the form of hydrogen.
The expansion of wind energy has slowed down worldwide, and in Germany it has come to a virtual standstill. If the German government wants to achieve its goal of ensuring that 65 per cent of the electricity consumed in this country in 2030 actually comes from renewable energy sources, then it is not enough to simply invest more funds in the expansion of wind power plants on land and offshore. Above all, the approval procedures, which take an average of six years, must be accelerated, the missing electric-line system from North to South Germany must be built and storage facilities for energy from wind power must be created – the keyword is hydrogen here too! The planned construction of offshore wind farms, which produce electricity specifically for water electrolysis and thus for the production of hydrogen, could be of decisive help to the industry.
At an event of NEW 4.0 (Norddeutsche Energie Wende or North German energy turnaround) in autumn 2019, I became aware of the potential that this development holds for companies and employees in this sector, which has recently been struggling to make progress. There, among others, the Senator for Economics of the city of Hamburg, Michael Westhagemann, who previously worked as a top manager at Siemens, gave a very motivating presentation on this topic. In order for the construction of such offshore wind farms for hydrogen production to be worthwhile, a high demand for hydrogen is needed above all. In the future, this demand could derive from both industry and the mobility sector. The industry needs a reliable power supply, which cannot be guaranteed by solar and wind energy alone. Here, hydrogen would be a safe electricity storage medium. In the mobility sector, regenerative produced hydrogen is a clean alternative for aircraft, ships and motor vehicles. Whether trucks or cars, vehicles with fuel cells are being produced in increasing numbers and thus become more and more affordable for companies and consumers. In terms of range, they leave purely electric vehicles far behind. And in terms of consumption costs, conventional vehicles cannot keep up with them. In addition to a sufficient supply of vehicles, a sufficient number of hydrogen filling stations are also required. Hamburg's Senator for Economics is therefore pursuing the ambitious goal of building a giant network for the energy industry throughout Northern Europe. In doing so, he is relying heavily on hydrogen as the energy carrier of the future.
Climate change remains on the agenda
The corona crisis, as an acute global challenge, has only temporarily pushed the issue of climate change and the necessary restructuring of the energy industry out of the headlines. However, this does not diminish the paramount importance of the associated problems. Strategically, therefore, companies must now arm themselves with personnel to be able to benefit from the economic stimulus packages.
- Rethinking strategy
The most important question that managers, not only in the energy industry, are currently asking themselves is: Is our company's service portfolio geared to the post-Corona crisis period? Companies with a connection to the energy industry must follow the emerging restructuring of the industry and realign themselves accordingly. Only those who take the right measures now and, if necessary, join forces with others to form consortia will be successful in the next tenders.
- Adapting skills
Once the new strategy has been adopted, the question arises whether the company has the right people on board and in key positions to ensure that the strategy can be successfully implemented. Answering these questions using aptitude diagnostics is the reason why Mercuri Urval was founded in Sweden over 50 years ago. And the fact that we are now a global company makes it clear that we can answer these questions and serve our clients anywhere needed.
- Develop or recruit the missing skills
Where the comparison of existing skills and those required for the implementation of the strategy has revealed gaps, there is a need for action. Ideally, existing specialists and managers can be trained and promoted accordingly through personnel development. At the same time, missing talents can also be gained through recruitment. Our series of articles, “Way Ahead” by Richard Moore, CEO and partner at Mercuri Urval, provides valuable insights into what kind of managers you need in the post-corona world.
Restart with hydropower
The energy turnaround will also pick up speed again in Germany in the foreseeable future. Solar energy can already be generated at market prices today, and in the case of wind power, an offshore wind farm is also to be connected to the grid in five years’ time and will operate without subsidies. Whether the energy generated with wind power is ultimately used in the form of electricity or hydrogen is of secondary importance for the plant manufacturers. Neither battery-based electro mobility nor hydrogen-powered fuel cells will establish themselves on the market without wind power. It is also most likely not a question of either electro mobility or hydrogen. After all, both technologies offer advantages that can be particularly beneficial depending on the area of application. For wind turbine manufacturers who set the right course now, golden times could dawn after the crisis, because the global demand for energy remains high, and the demand for renewable energy even higher.