For the German Energiewende to succeed, public utilities will have to transform themselves into digital companies.
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Likewise, the German government has to up its game – for cloud-computing does not work without broadband, and on that score Germany is hardly in the first rank.
In a digital survey of the European Commission, Germany sits in ninth position out of 28 member states. The biggest weakness is the deployment of fibre optic cables, according to a recent study issued by the Cologne Institute for Economic Research.
Germany's Digital Agenda strategy provides for a minimum 50 megabit target by 2018, something EU Digital Commissioner Günther Oettinger has called inadequate.
"A transmission rate of a gigabit will be necessary if Germany does not want to stifle the data transport volume," Oettinger warned in June at a digital energy conference in Berlin.
The government recognises digitisation as a top priority and has set aside billions for needed investments. But trade associations like the Federation of Energy and Water Industries (BDEW) say the bureaucracy lacks a holistic view. At present, responsibilities for digitization are shared across four ministries and three different authorities. For that reason, the BDEW and others are calling for the creation of a single digital ministry.
The technology gap also exists among German companies. According to a recent survey by PwC, only 17 percent of the country's energy companies have already developed a digitisation strategy. The majority are still in the planning stage or have not done anything.
“Everyone must make the digital transformation - without exception. That's easy to say, but the question remains: how?” ask the authors of a new guidebook issued by the BDEW.
The 45-page document identifies key instruments such as big data analytics and platforms, as well as the overall transformation of internal processes. Clear rules on IT architecture, security and data protection standards contained in the new digitisation law are an important guidepost for further action.
The fundamental challenge is to change organisational structures. Flexibility and speed are necessary for quick adaptation. However, many small and medium-sized companies, often without their own IT departments, are overwhelmed technologically and financially. White label packages are one option, as offered by E.ON Metering, working in conjunction with Siemens. Another option is to forego certain metering and data management responsibilities, as allowed by the digitisation law.
Utilities need to reorient themselves into very different companies. The BDEW points to several new business models – including decentralised energy production and investments in charging stations for electric vehicles.
Andreas Kuhlmann of the German Energy Agency says the point is to work across industries in order to draw in the necessary expertise. Whoever wants to embark upon the digitisation of the Energiewende "must join forces and move in unfamiliar networks," says Kuhlmann.
This is just one part of a 4-part briefing on German Renewables;
German Renewables Briefing Part 2: Smart meters and the rise of the ‘prosumer’
German Renewables Briefing 3: Germany scrambles to bring digital infrastructure up to scratch