After almost two decades building concrete towers for wind turbines at a unit of market leader Enercon GmbH on Germany’s North Sea coast, he will probably lose his job in the latest wave of cuts hitting the industry. The 40-year-old may join thousands of European engineers and workers that in the past few years have become victims of the globalization and maturing of a sector Germany led for decades.
As nations from Asia to South America embrace wind power to rein in pollution, plunging costs are squeezing profit and German suppliers are forced to move manufacturing and jobs abroad to markets with higher growth. In the past few years, more than 2,000 positions have been eliminated in Germany in what more and more mirrors the decline of its solar panel industry virtually wiped out by competitors in China.
“Once these highly specialized jobs go, they’re gone forever,” Kleen said by phone. “It’s crazy for German companies and the government just to sit and watch this happen.”
Enercon, a closely held manufacturer which built its first turbine more than three decades ago, said Aug. 2 it will cut about 800 German supply jobs from this quarter, citing declining domestic demand and a shift to steel from the concrete towers that Kleen has spent most of his adult life building.
And the story told by several other producers is similar: Surging orders abroad, but a domestic market in decline as subsidies make way for competitive auctions that crimp new supply.
“Shipping to India doesn’t work, shipping to Chile from Germany will never be cost-efficient,” said Manav Sharma, the interim chief executive officer at Senvion GmbH, a turbine manufacturer. “There are business requirements and there are solutions.”
With wind and solar output at times providing the majority of Germany’s electricity, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s transition of Europe’s biggest economy away from fossil fuels and nuclear, has drawn admiration from other nations seeking to comply with tougher pollution rules under the 2015 Paris agreement.
But the stalled growth and redundancies in the wind industry is a blow to her plan that clean power jobs can to some extent take over from employment at conventional power parks. Merkel is planning to exit coal as well as nuclear and was counting on the wind industry after lower production costs in China wiped out 130,000 domestic solar industry jobs.