Germany trusts in digital tech, and €40bn stimulus, as it winds down coal industry
Germany is to pump €40 billion into digital transformation of its old coal-mining regions, to drive enterprise and employment as coal mining is phased out in the country.
New legislation that is expected to pass by the end of the year, which will designate the funds go on connectivity and innovation in the coal-producing states of Brandenburg, Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt and North Rhine-Westphalia.
Around €600 million has already been allocated for 11 projects and initiatives, including the establishment of a Center for Advanced System Understanding, a Fraunhofer Center for Digital Energy, and an Innovation Campus for Electronics and Microsensors.
The German government announced earlier this year it will phase out the use of coal by 2038. A special commission was convened to draw up plans for how to reconfigure the economies of Germany’s traditional coal-producing regions. The proposed legislation is a direct result of that body’s recommendations.
Flérida Regueira Cortizo, energy and environmental technology expert at Germany Trade & Invest (GTAI), the country’s economic development agency, said: “The aim is to develop coal-producing parts of Germany into regions of innovation. This requires structural change, in which environmental and construction technologies will play a central role.”
Jürgen Friedrich, chief executive at GTAI, commented: “Government economic programmes of the €40-billion scope don’t come along every day. This is a massive project aiming at transforming the economies and societies of significant parts of the country. So the opportunities for foreign and domestic companies to get involved will be many and varied.”
Separately, the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy has chosen 20 energy research consortiums to be eligible for €100 million per year in state funds. Their selection came after a nationwide competition as part of Germany’s so-called Energiewende, its transition to renewable and sustainable energies.
The grant money is intended to allow companies and universities to test out new technologies under real conditions. One of the focuses is hydrogen technology.
Peter Altmaier, the country’s federal economic affairs minister, said: “We aim to become the world number one in hydrogen technologies. Hydrogen technologies offer enormous potential for the Energiewende, climate protection and new jobs. With the laboratories we’ll be able to test how new hydrogen technologies can be applied under real conditions and on an industrial scale.”
An additional €200 million is to be made available for laboratories in regions undergoing structural change. The German government plans to unveil a comprehensive “hydrogen strategy” by the end of the year.
The country has also recently announced €500 million in additional funding for research and development in the field of artificial intelligence (AI), up from the original 2019 budget for AI of €140 million. A total of €230 million has been earmarked for the practical application of AI, €190 million for research, and €50 million for “social dialogue” around the impact of AI in society. A similar investment is scheduled for 2020.
Altmaier commented: “With AI, we have to be quicker in getting from research to application. It’s crucial that small- and medium-sized enterprises use and apply AI.”