No Critical Questions Asked In Berlin

Minister A. Dobrindt

During the NIP year-end conference by the German federal transportation ministry BMVI last Dec. 14 in Berlin, attendees seemed to be listening to a unique “success story”: EUR 700 million in incentives, almost 700 projects and around 500 industry partners for R&D and market preparation from 2006 through 2016. The program’s successes were presented by Germany’s transport minister, Alexander Dobrindt, and several managers of central NIP projects during two half days (see “Unique Success Story”). Some speakers, however, seemed to have been carried away a little by all the good news. Wilhelm Lang from oil and gas company OMV made the full-throated promise: “At the end of this year, we will have 35 hydrogen filling stations ready.” Apparently, he had not been informed that only 25 had been built at that time (see Growing H2 Infrastructure But Not All Stations Operational) and that the CEP map showed only 14 up and running during the conference.

If reporting had otherwise been honest and transparent, you could overlook certain “inaccuracies.” Unfortunately, the BMVI did not seem to leave the impression that this was wanted. Instead, the event felt more like an early election rally, at which the political opposition was granted a short time to address the audience, but no one was asked any critical questions.

No word about the sometimes considerable difficulties during the NOW foundation 10 years ago, the repeatedly occurring delays in central lighthouse projects or the less-than-efficient use of funds in some cases. There was deafening silence even about core issues, such as the 50 Filling Stations program, whose aim it was to have a total of 50 hydrogen filling stations built and “in operation by the end of 2015.” This statement was later changed to “during the duration of the program,” and now – after 12 months – only a third has been realized, despite more than half of the entire NIP incentives having been spent in the field of transportation.

Well, you may think, “we’ve solved the chicken-and-egg dilemma,” as several speakers concluded. A closer look, however, reveals quite quickly that the same number of 14 stations was up and running in 2013, which means not much has changed since then.

Thomas Bystry, chair of the Clean Energy Partnership, stressed the record accomplishment of six hours’ time for a building permit’s application to approval. But what he didn’t mention was what the postponement record looked like, considering the serious delays that were an essential part of almost all projects.

What exactly has been achieved? Klaus Bonhoff, chair of NOW, said that the objective of NIP had been “the acceleration of market preparation through the testing of systems in everyday use, the development of a value-added chain and a value-added share in Germany along with technology leadership and implementation of the technology.” Well. The stakeholders said these goals had been achieved. There was no discussion about whether independent observers will come to the same conclusion, and if they did, whether everything could have been accomplished faster and with a tighter budget. In short: no introspection, no recommendations on what to improve.

This begs the question of whether there has even been some follow-up – a fact-based assessment – and whether there have been any ideas on how things can be done better the second time around. This question is becoming increasingly important, as both business and politics seem to have agreed on a NIP 2 providing subsidies of EUR 1.1 billion until 2026.

A decade is a long time for things to happen. It is a long time to fail, to learn and to grow. This is why the apparent and complete lack of interest in learning from the experiences made with NIP 1 is so puzzling. It should be noted that the interest in technological advancements is there, but the one in organizational and conceptual matters is not.

Where is the platform to discuss concepts? Where was the design of NIP 2 decided? Who determines how much money will go into which industry?

Will big companies (again) make backroom deals? Companies which call for an extension of NIP and the CEP, and at the same time say that the Clean Energy Partnership is a “trustworthy and independent institution”? Independent – from whom? Certainly not from the automotive industry and neither from politics. Trustworthy? Can someone be trusted who praises the “years-long, magnificent pre-competitive collaboration” while one of its members uses NIP funds to install a fuel cell in a Ford Fusion Energi without the knowledge of the project partners and even the NOW program manager as well as the head of CEP’s Car Mobility working group?

But enough of that. Instead of getting upset, we should be happy about people still hitting the right notes when thanking their financial backers, as Daimler’s Christian Mohrdieck did: “We wish to thank the funding partners and the Bundestag.” Although…immediately thereafter, you had to bite your tongue when Mohrdieck highlighted the above-mentioned 50 filling stations program as “a model showcase.” It gets you thinking: A showcase for what model?

Author: Sven Geitmann

1 thought on “No Critical Questions Asked In Berlin”

  1. It is always good, to look a little closer, thanks. Mr. Geitmann.
    However, I am still wondering, and that since many years, how well educated
    and well payed people, mostly white males, can still be falling into those traps.
    And for such a long time-span.
    What may be the reason(s) for that?


Leave a Reply