Historically reliant on coal, imported oil and natural gas, Germany has become something of a test bed and model for national energy policy, and public and private sector investment and action when it comes to making the transition to a “low carbon” society.
Emphasizing the critical importance of the US joining the EU and taking a leadership position if global accords and efforts to mitigate and adapt to climate change and energy security are to have any real chance of success, policy makers and political leaders from the US and Germany in December inked an agreement establishing the “Transatlantic Climate Bridge.”
Focused on promoting energy conservation and the development and use of a diversified set of renewable energy sources, Germany—not known as a “sunny” country—has in a matter of little more than a decade become a world leader in the production and use of solar power. Ditto that for wind power, where much smaller Germany ranks second behind the US when it comes to the amount of megawatts generated via wind. Geothermal energy, used to generate electricity as well as for heating and cooling is also on the rise. More than 30 geothermal installations and 300,000 heat pumps are in use, according to latest statistics.
Renewable energy sources now account for some 15 percent of German electricity generation, helped along by a variety of business and individual consumer government incentives, a figure that can be doubled to 30 percent by 2020 and increased to 50 percent by 2030, according to the latest study commissioned by Germany's Federal Environment Ministry.
Not only has this been achieved without running into an energy shortfall, Germany expects to phase out nuclear power and still reach its ambitious renewable energy targets. An added benefit of significance, dependence on energy imports will be reduced and the country's entire energy platform will be more resilient and flexible, enhancing energy and national security, according to the study.
Kicking the Habit
“We have to get rid of our addiction to fossil fuels…(and) only if the EU and the US work together, do we have the slightest chance of convincing others to join the effort,” Klaus Scharioth, Germany's ambassador to the US, stated, adding that, “if we don’t succeed in getting a follow-on agreement (to the Kyoto Protocol), our children and grandchildren will all hate us.”
Fostering development of renewable energy resources, energy efficiency, emissions trading and sustainable transport have been identified as four initial focal points for the Transatlantic Climate Bridge initiative.
California thin film solar cell producer First Solar is thriving in the German market environment, where institution of a feed-in tariff system has catalyzed commercial and homeowners' uptake of solar cells. First Solar business in Germany took off in 2005, growing 2,500 percent. Management expects it to double again this year, CEO Mike Ahearn said.
“With an ambitious incoming US administration and the EU's urgent need for a strong partner in its leadership efforts, one can't underestimate the importance of transatlantic communication and cooperation. So stakeholder meetings like this EU-US dialogue create crucial stepping stones towards, this goal,” commented Alexander Ochs, director of international policy at the Center for Clean Air Policy.
Frank Loy, President-elect Obama's climate adviser during the campaign, expressed a cautionary optimism regarding whether or not the US public would demonstrate the broad support, resolve and actions required to kick the oil and fossil habit. “It isn't really understood how deep anti-environmentalism and cynicismis towards climate change in the US,” Loy said while addressing the audience during a two-day “EU and US Dialogue on Climate Change” gathering at the German Embassy in Washington D.C. earlier this month.
“As an issue that motivates individuals to take action or to vote, it's near the bottom,” Loy noted, referencing the results of a recently released “American Climate Values” survey. “They know how challenging it will be to achieve an international climate agreement. They also know that, despite the global excitement and expectations of President-elect Obama's presidency, there are limits to what one leader can accomplish.”
Despite these reservations, Loy praised President-elect Obama's commitment to “taking strong action on climate change,” and doing so by turning difficult problems and challenges into opportunities as much as possible.
Energy efficiency and conservation and promoting the development and use of renewable energy resources are key elements of President-elect Obama's proposed “American Reinvestment and Recovery” $800 or so billion economic stimulus and recovery bill, one that he hopes to see enacted soon after taking office despite initial criticism and skepticism regarding various aspects of the bill.
Estimating that as many as 4 million jobs would be created if the plan were enacted, Obama's plan calls for doubling the amount of renewable, or alternative, energy produced and consumed in the US, enacting an ambitious energy efficiency and conservation drive throughout Federal government offices and properties.
Having presided over the accumulation of record deficits and tax breaks for oil companies and other large, often multinational corporations with seemingly no particular allegiance to the US during the Bush II years, Congressional Republicans are all of a sudden getting stingy and harping on about the individual and business tax cuts Obama's plan includes.