Earlier than expected

Wednesday, 9 March, 2016 - 14:00
Andreas Wellbrock will become WAB’s new CEO from April on. (Photo: Torsten Thomas)
Andreas Wellbrock will become WAB’s new CEO from April on. (Photo: Torsten Thomas)

Andreas Wellbrock was actually scheduled to become WAB’s CEO on 1 June. Now he’ll be getting down to business two months earlier. Wellbrock has ambitious plans and wants to approach members directly.

OWI: For 16 years you worked for the BLG Logistics Group where you were also member of the board. From April 1st you will be WAB’s new CEO. Why did you decide it was time for a change?

Wellbrock: Coincidence played a part.  The WAB board told me about the vacancy and at the time I was looking for new challenges anyway.  I'm committed to offshore wind and it’s something I also helped to develop for BLG in terms of logistics. This common denominator brought us together.  And it proved to be the right route for me to take. If you‘ve been on the board of a large company for too long, at some point it becomes difficult to break away.  That’s why I’m looking forward to working for WAB and its members.


OWI: So you intended to change the direction your career was heading anyway?

Wellbrock: Quite right. I had held various positions and taken on several roles at BLG. But the time was ripe because after a while things become routine and the opportunities to change anything in a large group are limited. I’m a creative person with plenty of ideas about how we can build on what WAB has already achieved. The network grew rapidly in the boom years. Now, we’re tending to stagnate and the industry is in a trough. We therefore need to make sure that momentum is regained. This applies especially when you look at the debates on acceptance in the south and west of Germany.


OWI: What will your starting point be?

Wellbrock: One focus will lie on the members. We have a very varied structure that ranges from big companies to medium to small-sized companies and one-man bands.  As a result, expectations vary a great deal as to what WAB could do for its members. But then again, we need a stronger presence that reaches out beyond the northwest. If our goal is to achieve more acceptance for the offshore wind industry, we need to integrate our members in the west and south of Germany more strongly and attract new companies there. 


OWI: In the heydays, the network grew at a pace, because many companies wanted to try their chances offshore, while other companies are only active in onshore wind. How can we deal appropriately with this mixed structure?

Wellbrock: First of all, we need and want to find out what our members’ interests are and to what extent these interests differ.  This is something I want to look at in as much detail as possible to start with. The results will engender new focal points and priorities.


OWI: It will all hinge on politics.

Wellbrock: Exactly. Big companies want us as a network to be involved in legislation and political processes in Berlin. And that’s something that’s important to all members of course. Moreover, we are committed to the small, owner-managed companies and we need to highlight the added value that membership brings.


OWI: So you first want to listen to what is being said in the network?

Wellbrock: We will evaluate the situation and conduct a membership survey.  Moreover, I have resolved to visit a representative cross-section of members and discuss the situation with them. This also applies to the geographical situation, because the expectations of a local company may differ from those of a member in the south of Germany.


OWI: You are approaching the matter in a very open way.

Wellbrock: I first want to see for myself what the situation is like and listen to a large number of attitudes and opinions. This may result in a concept and clarity on where we need to make changes and what our future focal points should be. I’m  hoping for a great deal of replies.


OWI: How do you rate the current situation within the industry?

Wellbrock: We need conditions that will be stable for a number of years and are geared towards the future, because the lead times for projects at sea are longer than for those on land. At the end of the day, this means that the basis for the profitability calculation still has to apply in four or five years’ time. We must make this clear not only to the federal government but also to the prime ministers of the federal states.


OWI: We are entering the crucial phase concerning the amendment to the Renewable Energy Act (EEG) . Is the wind industry as a whole still able to make itself heard?

Wellbrock: We are currently working on this very intensively, as the Weimar Appeal with the five northern German federal states has recently demonstrated. However, it will be essential for other federal states to follow our reasoning as well. This is hard work, because the energy transition has slipped down the agenda during the course of the refugee debate.


OWI: As a matter of fact, the politicians have already cut back a number of megawatts by capping the expansion targets. The reduced volume does not exactly fire the  imagination.

Wellbrock: I consider the cap to be the wrong signal. The refugee crisis shows how fragile the  world is. There are many wars, countries that are being destabilized by disputes, the conflict with Russia and distortions caused by global warming. I feel that what is lacking in the energy transition is the geopolitical interest to produce as much energy as possible ourselves. Wind energy and especially offshore wind are vital in this context. Judging from the learning curve, wind energy will indeed be able to make its contribution at reasonable prices.


OWI: At the moment, the low oil price is leading us to believe that energy supply is less of a problem.

Wellbrock: This situation, of course, is not here to stay and the low price is also a result of the fact that demand is decreasing thanks to the move away from fossil fuels. What I am missing in Germany in terms of policy is a clear commitment in favour  of and a plan for the energy transition. This is  not just a matter of expansion and speed, but also of how we cope with the consequences resulting from the decision.


OWI: So the basic objective first of all is expansion to meet demand?

Wellbrock: (laughing) Whatever that may mean, there must be something wrong with environmental protection, if modern gas power plants, the costs of which still feature in the books, are not profitable, whereas money is flowing in from coal-fired power plants that have been written off.


OWI: This raises the topic of system integration.

Wellbrock: Of course, we must promote this approach more forcefully and take a much closer look at storage technologies or the conversion of electrical energy. I regard this as important simply in terms of industrial progress with all its innovations. We also need a clear framework for technological innovation from the legislator so that products which have reached market maturity, such as power to gas or battery storage systems, will in fact become economically feasible.


OWI: Germany is not the only country that has put the cost brakes on. A similar discussion is ongoing in the UK while in other countries costs again are an issue where tendering is concerned. At the same time, the volume of renewables is not growing.

Wellbrock: Low-cost coal-fired power stations do not help us to combat climate change and the severe consequences for many countries. Starting with coastal protection, the full costs would have to be offset against the expansion of renewable energy and I would argue that society would find this cheaper in the long term. However, without volume the wind industry will not be able to achieve economies of scale. On the contrary, if there are insufficient capacities, the opposite effect will occur.


OWI: One consequence of the volume shortage and the cost reductions demanded is that the European market is shrinking to fewer and fewer players.

Wellbrock: Many companies have now disappeared from the market or have been incorporated into larger group structures. Concentration leads to falling costs for the initial projects, but when the market is split into oligopolistic structures, the trend will reverse.  At the same time, a market in short supply and the lack of prospects will present a barrier for new entrants, because entry into the market costs a lot of money.


OWI: High costs have given rise to differing opinions on the Offshore Terminal at Bremerhaven (OTB). Early in February, your old employer signed the contract for the operation of the terminal. What is your opinion on this?

Wellbrock: About 270 hectares of developed land is available by the river Weser. Without an OTB these spaces will not be attractive or it will be a lot more difficult to market them successfully. Corporate decision makers always go where the offshore infrastructure is located.


The interview was conducted by Torsten Thomas

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