Jun 16

Save Earth with Fusion Energy (Medium)

Tokamak Reactor

Recently, I found myself engaged in a discussion about electric cars and the future of energy. As I spoke with other German managers, not one of us could really offer any good reasons why electric cars are better than cars utilizing combustion engines. Electricity is mostly derived from coal fired power stations, so how can electrically powered cars be any better? Fast forward to 2050 and imagine a world of relatively endless, safe and cheap energy – sourced from electricity – but before we go there a quick history lesson.

Back in 1985, the USSR proposed an international fusion-energy project. It was towards the end of the cold war – a time of Reagan and Gorbachev, nuclear disarmament and Perestroika. It would be followed by the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union. Russian nuclear technology in 1969 was far superior to what western scientists possessed and today their Tokamak reactor technology remains at the heart of the international fusion-energy project called ITER, meaning “the way” in Latin, that began at the end of the cold war and prior to the formation of the European Union.

Construction of the ITER fusion-energy facility began in 2005 in Cadarache, France – 75km north east of Marseille, and is located in the region of Provence. More than 34 nations – representing more than half the world’s population – are involved in the project. This includes Russia, the U.S., South Korea, the EU, India, China and Japan.

Over the next few years, over a million individual components will be delivered and assembled like a large Lego model about the size of 81 swimming pools combined. The reactor itself will stand at over 30 metres high and there will be enough cabling at ITER to wrap around the Earth 15 times. For every 50 megawatts of electricity it uses, it should generate up to 500mw of power output and will reach temperatures of 100 million degrees centigrade during normal operation and up to 300 million degrees centigrade during first plasma.

First plasma is targeted for 2022. This is essentially the fusion of the core hydrogen isotopes of deuterium and tritium, which will drive the nuclear reaction and are the source of nuclear fuel. Deuterium or heavy water is found in salt water and tritium is produced by activating neutrons in lithium, which is a key metal used in heat-resistant glass, ceramics and batteries. Both sources are prevalent and much safer than uranium based fission technology which remains highly radioactive for thousands of years compared to fusion based radioactivity lasting approximately five to ten years. See: Fission vs Fusion and Fusion Safety

If all goes well the first demonstration power plant using nuclear fusion could be ready by 2030 with commercial reactors that will be built around 2050. Many experts believe nuclear fusion is the only way to generate industrial-scale quantities of electricity day and night without relying on carbon based fossil fuels or dangerous and dirty conventional nuclear power. What do you think?

Learn more about the dangers of fission technology and uranium mining.

Images sourced from Wikipedia and ITER.

Other sources of information: The Independent UK – One Giant Leap for Mankind

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Jun 07

Success Factors for a Product Launch in Germany

Germany is one of the most lucrative, rewarding and attractive markets to launch new products and services in. The banking crisis’ of recent years have served to strengthen the safety and security of investing in Germany, whose consumer group remains one of the largest and most stable in Europe.

The German market is competitive, relatively conservative and at the same time open to new ideas and experiences. Although many challenges arise when launching a product or service into more sophisticated markets, success often comes down to laying good groundwork, having good ears on the ground and maintaining good communication with consumers.

Once you complete initial market research and obtain good consumer insight, you can begin to think about how to build an awareness of your product or service. Although this can be achieved through traditional forms of marketing and advertising, it is equally important to consider: ‘How can we use social media to obtain feedback on our product or service?’

One way is to engage a local PR team or agency to monitor and analyse traditional and social media relating to your product or service within the German speaking market. Local PR experts can identify any media items that specifically mention your company, clients, suppliers, competitors, related interest groups, and specific topics of interest, such as changing industry regulations. By analysing and responding to current market trends and consumer needs, you can fine tune your campaigns, improve their overall reach and obtain better awareness. For example, the use of social media can enable a company to engage in a conversation with the consumer, allowing you to adapt to their needs as a result of feedback on how they respond to, feel and think about corporate messages and claims. Social media can therefore also give you an insight into what their impressions of various products and services are.

One of the shortcomings of new entrants is to not fully appreciate how consumers in different markets perceive different messages and how negative or positive an impression can be. For example, take a new European airline that didn’t want to be seen as a low-cost carrier. Typically, many markets associate low-cost with poor quality but many companies in Germany offer low-cost products and services without compromising on ‘quality’. In Germany, a low-cost airline has a better image than in most of its European peers. Why you ask? Well, because the industry standards for low-cost airlines are higher than those for no frills airlines. The challenge therefore lies in communicating the right message that matches a consumer’s perception of the product or service. What might work in one country may not work in another.

So, with a check in the box next to ‘awareness, perception and needs’, one also needs to think about maintaining communication. Although this can be achieved through your social media channel of choice (LinkedIn, Facebook etc.), companies make some common mistake here too.

I asked Ingo Harding, the CEO for public link, a PR agency in Berlin, “Is having a social media presence in German really that necessary”? He replied, “Yes it is absolutely necessary and critical to success, especially if you are trying to build up a brand and establish a quality product or service in Germany. German consumers are passionate about the products and services they buy and they like to engage in a conversation with the brand. Additionally, they also need to complain, react and ask for information through simple and easy to use social media channels. Contacting customer service through home pages i.e. ‘contact us’ pages or phoning toll free numbers takes time and isn’t as easy as posting a comment or visiting a Facebook page. The big problem though is that even after new entrants establish German social media channels, they fail to understand that these become the main channels for customer service and often have inadequate resources to deal with the traffic and requests generated by the sites”.

Curious to dispel some typical German stereotypes, I enquired a little further. Do you think there is a bias towards German products in Germany? Does every household have a Siemens washing machine and a BMW in the driveway?

IH: “No absolutely not. The German market is very competitive and demands value for money, so naturally Germans buy products that fit this criteria. Often we see companies or products that don’t fulfill their promise of quality. On the other hand, companies that discover that the competition is weak, their price right, the quality good, and that offer some kind of service advantage are likely to do well.”

Other experts conferred the same, and stated pitfalls that include an unrealistic assessment of market risks, prospects that have no idea of the market and offerings that don’t fit to consumer behaviour. Being too innovative in a conservative market can also be perilous.

Germany is open to new ideas and innovations and enhanced service offerings but consumers expect value for money. If we thought about a four step plan to achieve this it might look something like this:

  1. Needs – Does the consumer need this product or service?

  2. Perception – How is my company, brand, product and service perceived?

  3. Awareness – How aware is my target market that my products exist?

  4. Maintaining communication – How well will I engage them on an ongoing basis?

  5. Achieving loyalty – How happy are my customers and how likely are they to recommend my product to someone else?

These are just a few of the critical success factors to consider when launching a new product or service in Germany.

For further information on launching products and services in Germany visit: http://www.publiclink.de/en/index.php or contact: launch@publiclink.de

Written by Jeremy Hamann – Copyright © 2013 – All Rights Reserved – http://www.berlinbusinessenglish.com

Jun 02

Germany’s Political Landscape (Medium)

Germany’s political landscape is both fascinating and one to admire. It is a good example of real democracy in action, both complex in its makeup and constantly reinventing itself. There are six major parties in Germany, each with differing political policies that they primarily support.

Jürgen Matern - The Reichstag

Jürgen Matern – The Reichstag

  1. CDU – Christian Democratic Union of Germany (Angela Merkel’s conservatives and the party in power) – rejects socialism, supports low unemployment, fair competition, strongly opposes dual citizenship for newcomers, and wants to slow the shutdown of nuclear energy.
  2. CSU – Christian Social Union of Bavaria – mostly similar CDU policy but at times the opposite, just for fun, and gave us free coffee cups 🙂 NOTE: The CSU can only be voted for in Bavaria and likewise the CDU cannot be voted for in Bavaria.
  3. SPD – Social Democratic Party of Germany – famous for cutting social welfare in 2003/2004 and lost a lot of its supporters to Die Linke as a result (Die Linke also lost supporters to the Pirate Party for not being left enough); supports the minimum wage and a rapid shutdown of Germany’s nuclear power stations.
  4. FDP – Free Democratic Party – supports minimum wage and dual citizenship for immigrants.
  5. DIE LINKE – The Left (where disenchanted SPD voters go) supports lower rents and better living standards
  6. Alliance ’90/The Greens – Better known simply as “the Greens” and for their environmental policies. Their main following comes from higher income households in urban areas. They want to increase taxes on the wealthy to balance Germany’s finances.

There are several minor parties as well that receive a lot of media attention and show how diverse the political landscape is. These include the far right NPD and the far left Pirate Party, which often add colour and controversy to the mix as rebels or radicals. There is also a 5% hurdle to get into Parliament, which is important for the FDP, Die Linke and the Pirate Party.

At a federal level, the government of Germany usually consists of a coalition of a major and a minor party, most typically the CDU/CSU and FDP, or a ‘red-green alliance’ of the SPD and Greens.

In my opinion, Germany’s second economic miracle occurred largely as a result of the hard SPD agenda from early 2002 (see: Agenda 2010), which freed Germany from its social obligations and removed many bureaucratic barriers for business. Policies that the CDU and its coalition partners presently benefit from today. That said, the whole political landscape appears to be shifting more to the left, with the parties in power saying the least about their political agenda, and who are focused on surviving until the next election in October, 2013.