Greenbacks for green stuff

Some people still believe that alternative energy is an obsession of the sandal-wearing classes, not to be taken too seriously as major international engineering and technology business.


To rebut this we would like to call two witnesses. One comes in the admittedly less than thrilling form of Germany’s trade statistics. The second is the rather more flamboyant figure of the Terminator.


First to Germany. According to the VDMA, the country’s engineering federation, exports of German-made equipment for wind energy generation rose by more than half last year to around £2bn.


Germany now accounts for more than one third of the world’s £7bn wind energy industry, and has quietly positioned itself as the global leader in the fast-growing sector.


Sales of German equipment are booming in the US, where wind generation is on the increase so rapidly that domestic production cannot keep pace with demand.


Of course, wind power is just one element of an array of alternative energy technologies that also includes wave, solar and biofuels.


Between them, these sectors add up to a formidable global market for engineering and technology. In this light, this week’s announcement by Tony Blair and Arnold Schwarzenegger was timely.


Strange though it may sound the Terminator has gone green, and in his new role as governor of California has thrown his considerable muscle behind the search for environmentally benign technologies.


The prime minister joined Schwarzenegger this week to unveil a UK-Californian initiative to collaborate in researching low-emissions technologies.


It is tempting, very tempting indeed, to label the ‘Blair and Arnie’ show a gimmick. The governor has no choice but to be seen to be taking energy-saving initiatives seriously because of the power shortages that have plagued California’s cities over recent years. A photo opportunity with the hugely popular (at least in the US) prime minister will have done this no harm.


The fledgling alliance is also heavy on ambition and light on detail (a Blair trademark, his critics might say).


But as a statement of intent, the initiative should be welcomed. As the German experience shows, there is serious business to be done in alternative energy markets, and the UK needs to develop as many links as possible around the world. California is a good place to start.


Andrew Lee


Editor


The Engineer & The Engineer Online