I’ve been in Germany for the better part of the last week, on a trip for young policy professionals sponsored by the Friedrich Naumann Stiftung. This has been a really eye-opening experience, as we’ve had the opportunity to travel around the German state of Saxony and are now in Berlin, speaking with state and national political representatives about the challenges and future opportunities facing Germany.
Since coming here, I’ve been hugely impressed with the commitment to new technologies and in particular the search for new forms of energy at both the national and local levels of the German state. Saxony and in particular the Saxon capital city of Dresden is awash with high-tech corporations, from a huge Glaxo Smith Kline office to Volkswagon’s stunning “Transparent Factory“, where workers hand-assemble the Phaeton model, and it is impossible to come to Germany without seeing windmills everywhere, generating electricity.
We also toured the headquarters of Solar World, an innovative company producing every step of the solar energy process, turning silicon blocks into wafer-thin sheets that they then turn into photovoltaic cells, for use at home and export around the world (including on the roof of St. Peter’s Cathedral in Vatican City). This commitment to new energy, heavily supported by government subsidies, is part of Germany’s goal to reduce and even eliminate its dependence on nuclear and coal-fired power plants.
However, the search for energy is also emblematic of the challenges looming over Germany’s horizon. While government intervention has helped shore up Germany’s economy in tough times recently and has helped create and sustain the state-of-the-art solar industry in Germany, several officials we met with expressed concern about German government spending, at a time when they are attempting to overhaul Germany’s century-old universal health care system, reshape Germany’s universities to compete with others around the world, convert its army from a conscript army to a professional one, and continue to push for new energy solutions.
Despite their incredible technology, companies like Solar World likely could not exist or continue developing without heavy government assistance, assistance that seems likely to be reduced in the coming years as budgets grow tighter and different priorities compete for attention. How Germany deals with this looming crisis of interests will show whether or not the country can maintain its incredible edge and thirst for new technologies, or if these modern innovations will fall by the wayside.
— Andrew Lebovich