Siemens deploys people power

Siemens has introduced a programme where it rewards employees who drive fuel-efficient vehicles.

Siemens, the German electrical engineering and equipment giant, believes in harnessing a variety of power sources to drive the shift to lower-carbon energy. That includes people power. The firm has introduced companywide programmes to encourage its staff to adopt more energy-efficient lifestyles. One rewards employees who drive fuel-efficient vehicles and penalises those owning petrol guzzlers.

"Me, I drive a Prius hybrid," Dr Rene Umlauft, the chief executive of Siemens's renewable energy division, told the World Future Energy Summit in the capital last week. He was referring to the energy-efficient Toyota hybrid car, the latest model of which last Tuesday won the Zayed Future Energy Prize for the Japanese firm. "Sustainability is a form of transformation process. It starts in our minds and in our behaviour," he said.

As few as five years ago, employing hundreds of employees at Siemens to design and manufacture wind turbines and solar panels, and to execute complete renewable energy projects, was just a dream for the company's clean-energy enthusiasts. But public and corporate attitudes are changing. "Five to 10 years ago, it was impossible to form a renewable energy division. It was a vision," Dr Umlauft recalled. "Now we have such a business."

eSolar, the US company that just won a contract to build the world's biggest solar project in China, is using human ingenuity in the field of information technology to drive down costs. "People don't want to pay more for green energy, and the only thing in the world that's going down in price is computer power. So we want to use more of that and less steel," Bill Gross, the company's chief executive, told the conference.

Steve Sawyer, the secretary general of the Global Wind Energy Council, said one of the biggest problems the renewable energy sector faced in North America and northern Europe was too many lawyers and not enough engineers. "It's less of a problem in southern Europe and not much of a problem at all in India and China," he added, possibly helping to explain why countries like Spain and China are among the world leaders in deploying renewable energy.

Dr Nigel Brandon, the director of the energy futures laboratory at Imperial College London, said it was important to employ bright people now to start developing the low-carbon energy solutions that would be needed in future decades. "We need to develop resources we don't have now," said Dr Brandon, who is also the chief scientific adviser to Ceres Power, a UK fuel cell technology company he founded. "In my experience, commercialisation takes 10 years of research and 10 years of product engineering, so it's a 20-year cycle. We have to think about how we might accelerate that."

One approach might be to encourage more partnerships across different sectors of the energy industry, he said. According to Dr Brandon, most oil and gas companies are open to such collaboration. Utilities, many of which already sell electricity from renewable power projects to customers, have been less co-operative, he said.