"You Can't Get Any Closer" - Interview With Dr. Ralf Schwarz, Head Of Development
Ralf, you are Head of Development at EPNE and have been with us for quite some time. When did you join us and how did you become aware of us at the time?
I have been with EPNE for a little more than two years now. Back then, EPNE was still very young and I was not yet familiar with it. However, when I was introduced to the position, I understood what was special about this company: The opportunity to play a significant role in the structural change in eastern and central Germany and to finally be able to develop major projects again. It soon became clear to me that I had to be part of it.
You mentioned something special about the EPNE, can you describe it in more detail - what drew you in back then as well as now?
It is typical for EPNE projects to be considered large projects, both in the wind- as well as the photovoltaic sector. We have extensive areas at our disposal. A bonus here is that we can concentrate on the approval planning. The somewhat annoying chase for project sites is no longer required as they are owned by our sister companies LEAG and MIBRAG. And as already mentioned - and I know this will have everybody's eyes wide open – at EPNE the projects simply are large. PV farms with 200, 300 or 400 MW are among them, as are wind farms with 100 MW and soon even more than that. Where else can you do projects like that in Germany? Who of us project planners wouldn't like to have such a project on their track record?
And what in particular is special about your position as Head of Development?
I see myself as a mentor for the project managers and project developers in my department. I encourage their personal responsibility and support them in their development.
The special thing about my role is certainly also that we have a great many and very challenging projects in both the wind and PV sectors. Not to mention that we are mostly located on former open-cast mining sites, which makes foundation work particularly challenging - already during the approval planning phase. So, all in all: highly varied and exciting.
What kind of skills are needed for the varied work in your position?
The most important thing, of course - as is in any profession - is to be experienced in what you do. And I think it’s old news when I say that it definitely helps to grow a thick skin, for example when dealing with the authorities. At the same time, however, diplomacy is needed in dealing with all parties involved, as well as the ability to ignite the project's turbo at the right moment and take everyone along for the ride. Sometimes grass grows faster if you pull on it.
How would you describe the leadership style at EPNE?
In conventional terms, one would probably speak of "cooperative leadership". That certainly applies to the entire leadership team here at EPNE. I would describe myself as very factual and structured. I see myself as a mentor for my colleagues, I demand and encourage individual responsibility from those in charge of the projects, but I am also happy to step in if this means speeding up a decision.
Germany aims to emit 55% less climate-damaging greenhouse gases by 2030. Seven more years and the clock is ticking, you could say. Where do you see yourself in 2030?
I see myself looking back on several years of structural change in Lusatia, which I myself have played a major role in shaping, and hopefully feeling satisfied with the fact that my team and I have delivered some pretty decent projects in the process. And of course, with the certainty of having developed the largest projects in Germany.
If you describe EPNE in one word, what is it?
When you look back on the past months and years, what is the moment that inspired you the most at EPNE?
I think it was when we received our first wind permit for Forst-Briesnig 2. Of course, a first permit is always something special for a young company and on top of that, the wind farm comes at quite an impressive size with a capacity of just over 100 megawatts.
One last question: How do you complete this sentence? "Join our team because..."
"... we are driven by the common goal of transforming former lignite open-cast mining areas into wind and PV farms. For us, this is energy transition "par excellence" – practically lignite to renewables – you can't get any closer than that."
You want to be part of this journey?