|12 Sep 2023
In spite of headline-grabbing commentary about wavering commitments to net zero targets, we all know that sustainable energy is the future; A massive growth area within our economies and the source of many of the jobs for future leavers. One of the people to lead the trend with a career in sustainable energy was Hannes Otto (F 04-06), Managing Director of NOTUS energy, he spoke with The Bradfield Society, about his time at Bradfield and his journey into a career in sustainable energy.
At just 28-years-old, Hannes earned a promotion to Operations Managing Director of NOTUS, a successful medium-sized sustainable energy firm based in Germany. His progression to MD at such a young age was a big step for him. While feeling that he might not be ready, it was not the first time he had pushed out of his comfort zone. Joining Bradfield in the Sixth Form proved to be a steep learning curve and an experience that gave him confidence in his abilities and a willingness not to shy away from a challenge.
Hannes was a very pro-active pupil; keen to embrace the opportunities offered. He remembers being commended by Mrs Atkinson, his careers teacher, for being the first person in the year to enquire about opportunities beyond Bradfield. He admits, however, that he didn’t quite get off to the flying start that he would have hoped for.
He chose academic subjects for which he held a natural curiosity and ability; A levels Maths, Physics, Economics and German – compulsory for German students. Back in Germany, he had been top of his Maths class, but he struggled to keep up in his early lessons, hindered by his lack of fluency in English, and being asked to write a 1000-word essay on the English economy for his first Economics prep made him thoroughly question his motivation. All this while he was adapting to the rigours of boarding school life where he missed friends and family. It was a tough, yet Hannes was determined to persevere. “I worked hard because I knew that a Bradfield education was expensive and I wanted to show my parents that I appreciated their investment in me.”
Hannes sought help for those areas in which he struggled and found a wealth of support. In ‘Maths Surgery’, Mrs Beeson identified that the German system for working out quadratic equations was different and taught him how to solve them the English way, a secret he shared with his brother, Piet, before his arrival, and his HsM Mr Backhouse helped explain the English terminology and micro-economic concepts in more detail. “The things I learned at Bradfield have really stuck with me, it was a great foundation for later learning.”
After Bradfield, Hannes decided to continue his experiences in the British education system, going on to read Aerospace Engineering at the University of Southampton where he would also participate in the ERASMUS scheme, spending a year at Stuttgart University, studying modules on wind turbines. This experience inspired his thesis which he wrote on rotor blades before a Master’s thesis about potential improvements to blade dynamics.
Despite his degree topic, Hannes was not dead set on a career in sustainable energy, but in the end, it was something that made good sense. Upon finishing his UK studies Hannes took some time out to assist his mother in recovering from medical treatment. Sensing that he needed to start on his career, his father suggested that Hannes take a temporary role at NOTUS, the company he founded.
NOTUS energy Facts
NOTUS energy was established in 2001 by Heiner Roger as one of the first Sustainable Energy companies in Germany. It is a medium-sized company and has a portfolio that generates 376MW, sufficient to power circa 345,000 homes per annum. NOTUS employs 339 people in 15 countries so whilst being a national business; it has global reach.
In his first few years at NOTUS Hannes had the opportunity to work for a partner company, gaining experience in financing projects and sales. Upon his return, he implemented this knowledge and earned the responsibility for project planning which saw him manage post-acquisition phase activities, including contract preparation. When the business was re-structured in 2016, Hannes was endorsed by senior colleagues to assume the role of Operations Managing Director and he took on responsibility for the commercial and technical functions as well as asset management.
Whilst the sustainable energy industry in German is big business and ever expanding, initiating a sustainable energy project in Germany is not as easy as you would think – something that we can relate to in the UK. Certainly, the project initiation phase can be intensely bureaucratic and lengthy, with projects taking anywhere from one year to more than a decade to come to fruition. However, NOTUS is well placed in Germany’s sustainable energy market, agile enough to take advantage of opportunities whilst also being sufficiently well-resourced to cope with the risk and long lead times associated with project initiation.
Regulatory changes are also the source of many of the challenges faced by Hannes’ team, but he praises the dynamism of his co-workers, perhaps leaning on those experiences during his early Bradfield days. “Our approach is very collaborative and we work well together, which honestly makes even the tricky stuff fun.”
Sustainable energy is not all about the cold topics of science and business – site permissions require the buy-in of the local populations which often comes down to the aesthetics of a proposal. However, in Germany there is less of the NIMBIYism that prevents UK sustainable projects going ahead. It is however that very interplay of aesthetics and technology that motivated Hannes’ father to set up NOTUS energy in the first place and continues to motivate him now. “The better we rebuild the forces of nature, the more efficient and beautiful the result.” His understanding of aesthetics has remained his guiding principle. In Heiner’s view, the fate of individuals and society is determined by the laws of nature and using climate-friendly renewable energies will help us to achieve the required and sustainable balance.
Heiner and Hannes would therefore wholeheartedly support sustainability being a more prominent focus for Bradfieldians thinking of their future careers. “I would happily recommend a career in sustainable energy to any Bradfield leaver. It is a growth area that provides many interesting career opportunities. In addition to the normal business functions of finance, marketing, sales etc sustainable energy companies require many different types of engineers to develop and maintain the wind farms and solar fields.” Civil engineers are required for construction, mechanical engineers for gearbox and bearings, electrical engineers for power generation, aerospace engineers for blade design and systems engineers to ensure the successful running of the site. Specialists are also needed with expertise in geography or geology as well as nature and ecology experts who can advise on the wildlife movement during the initial acquisition process and optimise sites for the local flora and fauna to minimise impact.
Additionally, Hannes attributes learning English as a key contributor to his workplace success and conversely would encourage English speakers to learn other languages. Whilst the culture of international companies might dictate that English would be the principal language, NOTUS’s national offices operate in German and a working knowledge of German is essential to workplace competence but also enjoyment of life outside of work and so it would be for other national companies.
The desire to give back…
Hannes felt that Bradfield offered him a very holistic educational experience, far broader than he might have experienced had he remained within the German education system and he has remained well disposed towards the College since leaving, keeping up to date by reading the Bradfieldian online. As such, when he heard about the plan to transform the church that he remembered from start of year services into an inspirational new working environment, his interest was piqued. “As someone who prefers to ‘go to work’ as opposed to ‘working from home’, the plan to transform the former church into a facility offering study spaces outside of the House seems like a fantastic opportunity to me.”
He's also an advocate of the different working methodologies that the space will enable and how it is geared towards the way people interact in the workplace where collaboration is a crucial practice. “I wish the project every success. It is definitely a place that I would have taken advantage of had it existed when I was at Bradfield.”
Having shared the details of the project with his brother, and Head of the Real Estate Department at NOTUS Piet Otto (F 06-08), the pair decided to club together to make a gift to the St Andrew’s Project, as a College we are incredibly grateful to them for their support. If you are interested in learning more about the project visit the dedicated St Andrew's Project webpage.
Owing to the importance of sustainability to our future and future careers we would like to establish a sustainability networking group for the benefit of Bradfieldians – current pupils, alumni, and parents. If you are interested in joining our sustainability networking group please email firstname.lastname@example.org with the title ‘sustainability networking group’.