Meeting the world’s energy needs adequately and efficiently across borders while contributing to understanding between peoples – that was the big idea behind the World Power Conference (today, the World Energy Congress), which was held for the first time ever in 1924. Siemens has been a part of this event from the very beginning and has even served twice as its organizer. Over the years, the company has regularly delivered ideas and solutions to address the most pressing energy-related issues of the times, and it continues to do so today.
Berlin shines with international flair – Germany hosts the second World Power Conference
No less than 500 kilograms of turtles (for soup), 2,000 chickens, 4,000 bottles of red and white wine and 2,000 bottles of Champagne served by 650 waiters were prepared for 3,700 invited guests. A lively fête, unrivalled in those years, took place in Berlin on the evening of June 18, 1930. The conference program described the “World Energy Party” in brief and concise language as an “official banquet with ladies” along with “artistic performances” and “dance.” Without a doubt, it was the social highpoint of the World Power Conference that took place from June 16 to 25, 1930. Officially, this ambitious international conference for energy technology was concerned with questions of “energy distribution and consumption.” From the point of view of the host country, however, it also served an additional purpose: the event was to present Berlin – and, in fact, all of Germany, including its industrial sector – in festive flair while placing the country in a favorable light on the world stage after its long isolation due to the First World War.
Despite the program of social activities on the sidelines of the event, the participants did not, of course, lose sight of the substance of the conference. After all, as early as the 1920s, engineers – as well as political leaders and industrialists – were already wrestling with questions of energy supply and the use of resources. Moreover, the organizers wanted to enable the energy industry to “speak to the widest possible audience” and in doing so “raise awareness of the most pressing questions.” The strange turns such an effort can take were evidenced by the reactions to two speeches at the conference opening in the Reichstag building on the evening of June 15. No less than Albert Einstein and one of his British colleagues, the physicist Arthur Eddington, spoke about theoretical-physics approaches to solving the energy problems of the time. Media coverage made it clear that the two speakers went a bit over the top. The press reported with some amusement that even many of the best-informed experts in the audience wore perplexed and confused expressions. Nevertheless, the conference was a complete success and one in which Siemens played a decisive role.
Energy use as a path to intercultural understanding – Siemens manager takes on responsibility for the World Power Conference program
The World Power Conference held in 1930 was the second of its kind. The first edition had taken place in London in 1924 in conjunction with the British Empire Exhibition in Wembley. Its founding father was Daniel Nicol Dunlop, the chairman of the British Electrical and Allied Manufacturers Association. This Scottish engineer was motivated primarily by impressions of the politically and economically tense post-war years. Mistrust, suspicion and nationalism continued to weigh heavily on international cooperation. The effects of the struggle between the powers in the First World War lingered on for years after the conflict had ended. Viewed as the cause of the war, Germany was eyed with particular mistrust, as was the Soviet Union, the model communist state. At the same time, modern energy-supply technology had brought the countries closer together. Their dependence on the continuous flow of power – whether derived from coal, oil, or hydroelectric sources – demanded closer cooperation and mutual trust.
This is precisely where Dunlop and his cohorts wanted to begin. For one thing, they wanted to nudge countries toward more productive cooperation. At the same time, they sought to encourage knowledge sharing and foster technical expertise for the advancement and prosperity of all. At the London World Power Conference, they indeed managed to establish a global forum. In total, 40 countries were represented, including Germany and the Soviet Union. For the first time ever, engineers and scientists – and even political leaders, administrative specialists and business representatives – had the opportunity to engage in dialogue in this type of setting.
One outcome of the initial meeting created a special opportunity for Germany and its industrial sector; the participants agreed to hold the next main conference in Berlin. For Siemens, one of the highest-profile German companies, this also offered a unique opportunity: just a couple of years later, Carl Köttgen, the Chairman of the Managing Board of Siemens Schuckertwerke (SSW), would be appointed to head the national committee charged with organizing the second World Power Conference. As such, the top manager bore more than just the overall responsibility for the success of the conference; the prestige of the international company and of Germany itself depended on the success of his work. Preparations began as early as 1928. One small but critical technical contribution to promoting better intercultural understanding, in the truest sense, was accomplished right away during the meetings held at the conferecne: Siemens & Halske provided a new type of system for interpreters that allowed participants to hear speeches in real time in the three languages of the conference – English, French and German.
The era of national isolation is over. We must recognize that we have become dependent on each other in today’s world.Carl Friedrich von Siemens, 1931
Return to the global market – Internationality as both an opportunity and an obligation for Siemens
Carl Friedrich von Siemens was an ardent proponent of cross-border trade. When he championed the ideals of the World Power Conference, he was not merely paying lip service. These ideals reflected his deeply held personal convictions and underpinned his business strategy of reintegrating Siemens into the global market in the years following the First World War. He saw implementing far-reaching international energy supply projects as an approach that was well suited to accomplishing this goal. Such projects not only helped achieve general advances in progress and prosperity while bringing large orders into the company but also promoted cooperation and mutual trust across national borders.
In this regard, Siemens was a technology leader and an innovator. After all, capabilities for generating tremendously large quantities of power at a few locations, transmitting this power over long distances, distributing it as needed, and using it in an array of different applications were among the company’s core competencies in the field of power engineering.
The electrification of Ireland demonstrated this expertise in a particularly strong way. Siemens had acquired this high-profile and prestigious international project in 1925. Completing the project electrified large swaths of the country by integrating the supply of hydroelectric power from the Shannon River and constructing long-distance high-tension lines and distribution stations. The fact that the project went into operation in 1930, in the same year as the World Power Conference in Berlin, was not just a convenient coincidence for Siemens. It was also evidence of successful international cooperation – at a time when the political situation was difficult.
A focus on environmentalism and sustainability – the 11th World Energy Conference in Munich
Traditionally, an honorary president from the host country was selected at the World Power Conference. This person then also chaired the upcoming congress until the next election in the cycle. Following the Berlin conference in 1930, headed by Oskar von Miller, one of Germany’s most prominent engineers, it took exactly 50 years before the honor was again bestowed on a German. For Siemens, this particular “World Energy Conference” – which became the official name in 1968 – was special for another reason: Peter von Siemens, the Chairman of the electrical engineering company’s Supervisory Board, was not only elected honorary president but also followed in the footsteps of Carl Köttgen as chairman of the organization committee. In this capacity, he took responsibility for ensuring the success of the conference program for more than 4,000 experts from 72 countries.
Just like the one held 50 years earlier, this edition of the conference, which was titled “Energy for Our World,” was held under difficult conditions. The 1970s were marked by the awareness of an impending energy and environmental crisis. In 1972, the Club of Rome issued an urgent warning about a foreseeable shortage of global resources and called attention to humankind’s responsibility to focus on renewable sources of energy. A year later, the first oil crisis showed the world the direct effects of a commodities shortage. The World Energy Conferences during this period were not exempt from the need to focus on these developments. From the very beginning, issues related to ensuring a secure and adequate energy supply in connection with the knowledge that there was only a finite supply of natural resources had been a major focus of the conference themes. At first, however, these questions had been seen more as a technological hurdle for engineers and scientists and less as a general social responsibility for ecology and the environment on a global scale. The new perspective has also been the dominant mindset at the World Energy Conferences held since the 1970s, and its influence will remain strong in the future, too.
Shaping a sustainable future – Energy questions in the age of climate change and digitalization
This mindset is even more evident today in light of increasingly obvious man-made climate change. In our times, questions of energy supply and security can, therefore, no longer be considered in a national context or in isolation from the requirements of sustainability and long-term environmental compatibility. The upcoming congress of the World Energy Council – its name since 1989 – is to be held in Abu Dhabi in September 2019. It will address these challenges in a globalized and networked world under the motto “Energy for Prosperity.”
Siemens, too, wants to contribute to these efforts and engage in dialogue with more than 4,000 delegates from over 150 countries. How can we ensure a reliable and efficient energy supply globally? How can conventional and renewable power generation cooperate in a future energy system? How can complex grids be managed thoroughly and how does increasing digitalization contribute to these challenges? And, finally, how can we secure the capital needed to fund the energy infrastructure of the future? The ideas and solutions that our company’s experts intend to present and discuss will be providing answers to these and other questions. As a congress participant, Siemens – with an expanded focus that includes the issues of our times, too – is and will remain firmly rooted in the tradition of the original ideas and goals put forward by the World Energy Conference founders nearly 100 years ago in their commitment to being global, innovative and sustainable.
Dr. Ewald Blocher