German Green Technology Forges Ahead

Published 12:00 am Monday, December 26, 2005

FRANKFURT AN DER ODER, Germany – Germans love their fast cars, but they also love nature, and their country is setting a bar for the world in developing the technologies to replace oil.

Much of its industry to supply the panels that capture the sun’s energy lies along the Polish border in what has become known as Germany’s “Solar Valley.”

Investors have been lured here by tax incentives and by wages that can be almost one-third less than those paid workers in western Germany. Also, a wealth of skilled workers is left over from the semiconductor plants that pulled up stakes and moved to Asia after the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe.

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“Frankfurt/Oder is one of the semiconductor hubs of the whole former eastern bloc,” said Dennis Wanke of Invest in Germany, the government investment promotion agency.

In and around Frankfurt an der Oder, nicknamed the “other Frankfurt” to distinguish it from the country’s financial center, Frankfurt am Main, unemployment is around 20 percent, compared with the national average of slightly below 10 percent.

The area here is benefiting from European Union incentives to improve poorer regions. Grants and allowances range from 50 percent for small companies to 30 percent for the largest, said Wanke.

With those breaks and quick approval of building permits, “We believe that no other region will at the moment realize such projects at such a pace,” he said.

Among the newcomers, Hamburg-based Conergy AG is opening a $340 million solar panel factory this summer. It employs 650 workers, likely to nearly triple within about a year, said Andre Richter, its director of research and development.

The American firm First Solar and Dresden’s Solarwatt Solar-Systeme, Q-Cells AG and Juwi International, are among other companies opening plants here to build solar panels for customers worldwide.

The three-level Conergy factory was originally part-built for a chip-making project that fell through.

“It just sat there and we didn’t know what to do with it until Conergy came along,” said Stephan Lubomierski of Investment Center OstBrandenburg.

First Solar, a Phoenix, Ariz.-based company, began producing photovoltaic cells here in April and plans to eventually employ 400 workers. It is investing $154.3 million and will get $61 million in financial incentives, according to Invest in Germany.

The company based the factory here on the design of its plant in Perrysburg, Ohio, said engineering manager Jurgen Elsner.

“It’s like Coca-Cola, using a standardized process … to produce as much as possible,” he said.

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A service of the Associated Press(AP)