Energy expert Olav Hohmeyer sees new opportunities on the horizon for business.
The economy can only function if it’s in harmony with ecology. This is the firm belief of Professor for Energy and Resources Olav Hohmeyer from the University of Flensburg. He explains here as well as in the Flensburg workshop the need for the economy to start rethinking its ways. For Hohmeyer, it’s the only way to shift sustainability from being a constraint to an opportunity.
Why are you interested in ecological issues as an economist?
I’m definitely an exotic bird amidst fellow economists – most of my colleagues still refuse to accept the fact that our economic systems are naturally limited or defined by our ecological system. Their view, here grossly exaggerated: Make enough money, so we can buy ourselves a new planet.
How do companies respond?
They need to be more aware of the issues surrounding sustainability. And they have the added “problem” of market competition. If an aluminium smelter, a high energy consumer, used green electricity to cover its energy needs, for example, it would go belly up. The canning company doesn’t care how the raw materials that go into its product are produced. For them it’s all about getting the right price. We therefore need policy makers to create conditions that facilitate and even award sustainable business practices.
How can the economy learn from science?
Business can learn to think in a goal-oriented manner and drive their development accordingly. We will be seeing radical changes from now until 2050 – worldwide emissions must be cut in half if we are to prevent a climate disaster. Industrialised countries in particular are called upon to switch to carbon-free energy supplies.
How can that be achieved in Germany?
We’ll need a combination of wind power, solar energy, biomass and hydropower, as well as the technologies for storing the generated energy. One possibility is to use water storage basins at different levels, like they do in Norway. We could export surplus energy to these basins to be accessed when needed. The power grid would have been expanded, of course.
Green energy costs considerably more. How does this impact the competitiveness of German companies?
Energy-intensive industries and business have to be given a break, and this is happening already. They are exempt, for instance, from the taxes established by the Renewable Energies Law, which was enacted to cross-finance the advancement of renewable energies. Change always brings about opportunity, this we must never forget. Companies can develop new products tailored to the new structures and conditions. One example of this is the boom we are seeing here in Germany with wind energy. Huge markets will soon be emerging. People who realise this early enough will have the first-mover advantage in these markets.