Let’s talk Otherwise, energy transition will fail
It is said that the energy transition is a generational task. The problem: we have little time left to do it. So many things have been postponed in recent decades that the transformation now must happen at great speed. With all the challenges that this poses to society. And with all the challenges that this means for communication. The heating law and the debate on heat pumps have brutally demonstrated in recent months the problems we get into when this communication fails.
Only active and compelling dialogue can shape the future. I don’t say this naively. Even with the best dialogue, it is neither easy nor certain to find acceptance for infrastructure and industrial transformation projects that intervene in people’s lives. But one thing is clear: without dialogue, transparency and open communication it is simply impossible.
An open dialogue on climate protection and technological issues does not guarantee that the future will be rosy or even green. We still don’t have an answer to some of the things the future needs. There are a variety of current challenges, whether artificial intelligence, tensions within society or sustainable economic activity, the ripples of which are shaking society. The terrain for politics and business is equally turbulent. All this means: we have to talk! Especially when it comes to difficult topics.
We can only find good solutions through constant dialogue between a wide range of interest groups. Solutions that contribute to society. And yet – I am convinced – business and politics have a particular responsibility to seek dialogue here: it is the task of political leaders to establish the framework for a new, more sustainable economy. But, above all, innovative companies have to implement it. They know what they need from politicians and authorities to implement projects on site. Drivers of innovation in the economy can show what is possible when policy creates the right incentive systems. The US government’s much-cited Inflation Reduction Act certainly has numerous weaknesses, but it shows the shared momentum for the economy.
Why are new projects having such a hard time?
Hydrogen for industry, electric mobility and new heating systems, explosions of efficiency through digitalization: the challenges for new projects are immense. It is necessary to create markets, establish offers and technologies, find financing, establish locations, while at the same time the political framework and official processes are still being defined. In many ways it is: open heart surgery.
Here project development is carried out “from scratch”, and communication is not only an interpreter, but a pioneer of business development and, in many cases, even the market. Since many questions and processes are open, continuous and holistic communication must involve all relevant stakeholders (from employees, partners, customers and investors to politicians and authorities, passing through the immediate neighborhood and the public) along the way, explaining what is planned and demand it. to balance and unite what is needed. The implementation of projects in new markets is never linear. Especially here it is important that business and politics listen to and understand each other.
Therefore, as soon as the implementation sketch is ready and the project idea takes shape, companies must say: Enter the political dialogue! Because as investments for the future, new technologies not only need risk capital, but also: political capital. As recent months have shown, there is political will to support innovation. But in order to design the framework for new markets, political decision makers need clear definitions of the problems coming from practice. This can only be achieved through early and consistent exchange. Politicians, whether regional or federal, can only build bridges if they know where businesses are headed and where the difficult waters lie along the way. Companies have a duty to provide clear information. Not in the lobby, but publicly and transparently. Politicians also have a responsibility to ensure that not only loud voices are heard. Especially because with new markets new voices emerge.
A look at practice: don’t let the conversation be interrupted
A particularly powerful technology cluster for the implementation of the energy transition and electromobility is currently being created in eastern Germany: with companies such as Tesla, BASF Schwarzheide, CATL and Rock Tech Lithium. The latter is a German-Canadian clean technology company that invests in the supply of lithium to Europe, a raw material without which electric vehicles and battery storage for green electricity are difficult to conceive. Rock Tech is building Europe’s first lithium converter in Guben, Brandenburg, and has sought early and active conversations with politics, science, business and civil society. Not just the simple and cozy questions. Clean technologies also face many challenges. Energy, raw materials and waste, transport:
The dialogue began even before there were answers to all the questions. In this way, Rock Tech accompanied the interested parties on the journey, informed them step by step and looked for solutions together. Always keeping the big picture in mind: for example, considering all essential parameters of the EU battery pass in advance. And never without asking ourselves what consequences this will have for the region. This resulted, among other things, in a regional lithium research institute, intensive knowledge transfer and good local neighborliness. This has been possible because the municipality and the state have proactively and proactively created a space and framework and continually dialogue with each other with all actors to further develop the new technological cluster.
Dialogue is a condition but not a guarantee of acceptance.
A central pillar for a successful energy transition will be a resilient and sustainable supply of raw materials. In addition to building a circular economy, this also includes increasing domestic production of the raw materials we need for the energy transition. But how much of its own financing can and wants Germany to provide? To this end, navos and the Civey survey institute carried out a representative survey of the German population in May 2023.
Firstly, there is a broad consensus: around 85 percent of Germans consider independence from raw material imports important for the future of their company. When asked what exactly speaks to the domestic production of important raw materials, citizens appreciate that this will make Germany more politically independent and keep the entire value chain in the country. The fact that shorter transport routes are also good for the environment is an important aspect for 47 percent.
However, as with all surveys – and as in communication practice – we see a significant “not in my backyard” effect. This means that approval decreases when it comes to financing in the region itself. Around 61 percent of Germans are in favor of extracting raw materials at their place of origin. After all: a majority. However, almost a fifth of those surveyed are undecided or negative on this issue.
In the study, we also asked what strengthens local acceptance of projects from the people’s perspective. For most, strictly avoiding health and environmental risks is crucial. Secondly, there are economic aspects such as the participation of the municipality in profits. And what about project communication? Since the Stuttgart 21 communications debacle, dialogue and citizen participation have been high on the agenda of local licensing authorities. Do citizens share this opinion? A mixed picture emerges here. Around 30 percent consider that citizen participation is relevant for acceptance. Regular dialogue events, on the other hand, are well received by less than ten percent.
The survey thus confirms practical experience that involving people, whether in the extraction of raw materials or in the development of infrastructure, is not a sure communicative success and is no guarantee of local acceptance. It depends on the type of communication and its sincerity. Dialogue is only effective if people’s concerns are truly heard and responded to. Participation procedures only make sense if there really is something that needs to be changed in the project planning. Otherwise they are a communicative illusion. People don’t fall for that.
Dialogue and participation must start from a low threshold and from the beginning: as soon as there is something to report and something to decide. Anyone who waits until an infrastructure or innovation project appears on people’s radar and then presents them with full planning data has wasted time for dialogue and is slowing down their project in the false belief that they are speeding it up. Local participation does not always (and not mainly) have to be public participation. Experience shows that it is often more effective to involve those who represent local citizens: municipalities and districts, local associations and clubs, regional companies. Targeted communication often achieves more than broad citizen dialogue if carried out for formal purposes only.
Not only the energy transition, but also the projects themselves are under enormous pressure to demonstrate that they can be implemented quickly and reliably. In the global competition for localization, Germany lags behind countries with comparable ESG standards (such as Canada or Australia) in terms of approval speed. For this reason, international investors continue to hesitate when it comes to financing projects in Germany.
If the official planning and testing steps are simplified as part of “Germany’s New Speed”, this can be of great help to companies when creating new infrastructure. And that doesn’t make the question of public acceptance obsolete. Germany’s speed does not devalue project communication, but on the contrary, reinforces its importance. Because it is even more important to arrive early and convince people. Key issues for key stakeholder groups should be explained and clarified prior to the official approval process. Only then can things happen quickly.
An example of how the willingness to go the extra mile can shorten the path to project implementation is the Deutsche Flussspat GmbH. For the first research work at the Käfersteige mine near Pforzheim, a conscious choice was made not to take shortcuts and a complete planning approval process with environmental impact assessment. The company wants to reactivate an old mine there that contains one of the largest fluorspar deposits in Europe. Fluorspar – also called fluorite – is a mineral used for photovoltaic energy and electric car batteries and of which the EU has so far imported two-thirds of it. Deutsche Fluorspar can cover an important part of domestic demand under the highest environmental standards with a “zero surface footprint”. For all plans, The company communicated issues and challenges early and transparently and involved environmental associations and external experts to develop solutions together. Even ideas to provide heat to the community through thermal water. This is also an example of how project development and communication can go hand in hand. And how open dialogue with local stakeholders and the right dialect paves the way for the successful implementation of projects for the energy transition. This is also an example of how project development and communication can go hand in hand. And how open dialogue with local stakeholders and the right dialect paves the way for the successful implementation of projects for the energy transition. This is also an example of how project development and communication can go hand in hand. And how open dialogue with local stakeholders and the right dialect paves the way for the successful implementation of projects for the energy transition.
There is much to discuss. Let’s talk.