Germany’s Renewable Path to a Nuke-Free Future
The US Could Follow — If Only There Were the Political Will
When Germany announced in June that it would phase out nuclear energy by the end of 2022, arguing that the shift would have not only environmental but also economic benefits, critics charged the goal was impossible.
Photo by benefit of hindsight
Germany, they argued, would need to import greater levels of nuclear energy from France, natural gas from Russia or coal from Poland. Germany’s four leading nuclear-producing energy firms — Eon, RWE, EnBw and Vattenfall — warned that Germany would face winter blackouts.
Germanwatch was quick to challenge the findings of critics, publishing a study that stated Germany could produce enough energy to meet its needs without blackouts, if it switched to renewables.
Last September, Germany unveiled a plan outlining its energy policy for the period up to 2050.
Renewable energy sources, the plan states, will generate 35 percent of electricity by 2020; 50 percent by 2030; 65 percent by 2040; and 80 percent by 2050. (Germany currently generates 23 percent of its electricity from nuclear plants.)
Germany is well on its way to meeting these targets, in fact, it is even exceeding its predicted timeline. On August 30, Germany’s Minister of Environment, Norbert Röttgen, announced that renewable sources were already meeting more than 20 percent of Germany’s elecriticity needs. It was the highest ratio of electricity produced by renewable sources thus far.
Wind energy contributed the most to this growth. Germany’s current growth to over 20 percent of renewables breaks down as follows: 8 percent wind power; 5 percent biomass; 4 percent photovoltaic; and 3 percent hydroelectricity.
Röttgen argued that this boom proved that the government’s political and financial commitment to renewable energy was paying off.
Germany is also ramping up its renewable energy manufacturing, particularly the wind sector, since it is a job producer. According to Germany’s Ministry of Environment, “approximately 300,500 jobs have been created in the renewable energy sector over the past years. About 87,000 people are currently employed in the wind energy sector alone.”
Since most of this solar and wind energy is generated domestically, the move to renewable energy also boosts Germany’s energy security.
The shift to clean energy is well-received in Germany. A survey conducted at the time of Röttgen’s announcement found that a staggering “94 percent of those interviewed believe that a further expansion of renewables is important,” said Röttgen.
In the United States, by contrast, where renewable energy faces an uphill battle to maintain its current level of government investment. Wind energy in the U.S., unlike in Germany, relies on tax credits. They are a notoriously fickle way to fund renewable energy, since they need to be renewed. Corporate investors in renewables consistently cite the US tax structure as a reason why they invest more in other countries, such as Brazil, China and Germany, where they enjoy more reliable subsidies. Internationally, renewable energy has witnessed double-digit growth, according to the 2011 Global Status Report published in July.
A day before Röttgen’s announcement of Germany’s growth, a bipartisan group of 24 US governors sent a letter to President Obama, calling on his administration to boost investment in wind energy. They demanded that tax credits due to expire next year be extended by seven years. They also called for a rethink about funding structures of renewable energies.
Meanwhile, legistlative gridlock looms on the issue nationally, governors are circumventing it by increasingly including Renewable Energy Standards and Renewable Energy Standards (RES) and Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS) in their state-wide energy plans.
According to the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), the amount of new wind energy capacity installed in the US in 2011 to early August is 72 percent higher than the amount installed in that period last year. But keeping that rate of installation high relies on reliable investment. As Peter Kelley, Vice-President of Public Affairs at AWEA, told Earth Island Journal: “Having reliable funding available is key to ensuring continued growth of renewable.”
Tina Gerhardt is an independent journalist who covers climate change, international negotiations and energy policy. Her work has appeared in Alternet, Grist, Environment News Service, In These Times, The Progressive and The Nation. She has appeared on the Laura Flanders’ Show on GRIT tv, on KPFA’s Aainst the Grain, the National Radio Project and WBAI.