For forty years already, we have seen a pattern of great technical developments shifting their main location from Europe to Asia. The German photo industry moved to Japan in the 1960s, and at the present time, only niche areas of this industry are present in Germany. The European ship building industry moved to Japan and is now mainly located in Korea and China. Even niches of technical industries typically do not fare well in Europe. The whole consumer goods industry, especially home entertainment, is dominated by Korea, Japan, and China. The only industries that have managed to retain a strong footprint in Europe are the car industry and the machine building industry. Both industries were also already in jeopardy of being eliminated in Europe by Japan and Korea. The strong technical developments that were initiated in these industries, however, could allow the European countries to gain back their leading role.
In Europe, a multitude of analysis has explored these developments. Nevertheless, Europeans did not learn the lessons these studies taught. Nearly ten years ago, Europe was developing the technologies for renewable energies, starting production and installation, and focusing on making renewable energies accessible. What is the status today, though?
China is already producing more wind turbines than Europe, and the Chinese companies are independent from any European company. For several years, they have been fully independent of European licenses. The photovoltaic industry is similar. The best photovoltaic cells are currently produced in Taiwan or Malaysia. European companies can only compete within a few niches against Asian photovoltaic cells. China has the greatest production capacity for photovoltaic cells, while the largest market is still Europe.
In light of these realities, we must ask whether these products are fairly traded. Even if the Chinese government provides subsidies for the photovoltaic and wind power companies, this does not explain why the European companies are falling behind the Asian companies in the realm of technology, and why Chinese companies are becoming more successful in other markets as well.
In my opinion, there are two main reasons why Europe is currently losing status in respect to renewable energies.
- Convenience behavior. The EEG law assured convenient conditions for the whole renewable energy industry. Product development, system developments, and process development did not maintain the necessary speed. The development of the grid began too late and was blocked by the big electricity companies. Now the discussion centers on the ideas that the energy turnaround of renewable energy is too expensive, and that having a grid in one’s surroundings is unacceptable—ideas that are slowing the speed of development in the industry. To compete against the Asian countries, the whole of European society has to leave its comfort zone and fight for its place in the world’s economy.
- Lack of capability to develop business models and services. Another weak point in European society is the fact that European countries are not as creative as Asian countries in developing business models and services. Europeans are used to the idea that other countries need their products and come to Europe to buy them. Thus, Europeans do not take enough care in providing the services that are needed for their products. They are not sufficiently developing technical services, financial services, and assistance with gaining permission for grid connection, security services, and other necessities. If European companies are not bringing the only outstanding product to the market, they must make their product outstanding due to the package they offer. However, offering such services is not a strong point in European industries.
Europe must change its mentality about marketing products, lest renewable energies continue going the way of ship building and consumer goods. Speed in development and creative business models will play a decisive role in shaping the future of Europe’s renewable energy industry.