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How a Country With One of the World's Largest Economies Is Ditching Fossil Fuels

The country is headed for 80 percent renewable energy and has complete buy-in from all political parties.

Wind turbines between Poitiers and Angouleme in France. Nearly 200 nations launched a fresh round of United Nations climate talks in Doha on Monday.
Photo Credit: AFP


This article was published in partnership with  GlobalPossibilities.org.

In the shadows of what was for many another disappointing international climate negotiation at COP 18 in Doha, the German energy transformation or “ Energiewende” has all the signs of a modern miracle: A complete shift of the world’s fourth largest economy to 80% renewable energy and complete buy-in from all political parties—from the most conservative to most liberal.  So, where is the sustainability energy Kool-Aid and how can we get some for the U.S. Congress? 

The Perfect Energy Plan?

No matter who one seems to talk to in Germany, whether it’s the conservative member of parliament or the kid of the street, they all seem to agree on one thing: climate change needs to be addressed and they’re going to do it.  Conflict arises, however, when asked HOW to do this and the Energiewende plan of Germany is touted as an inspirational and socially-responsible movement by one of the worlds’ leading economies, while others see it as a plan doomed to failure.  According to a 2012 Economist critical analysis of the plan, “To many the Energiewende is a lunatic gamble with the country’s manufacturing prowess. But if it pays off Germany will have created yet another world-beating industry, say the gamblers.”

So, what is this transition plan and is it an energy and climate innovator or, as skeptics claim, a plan made to fail? The targets are impressive. The Energiewende includes phasing out all nuclear power by 2022 and cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 80% from 1990 levels and shifting the nation’s energy sources to 80% renewables by 2050. Additionally, the Renewable Energy Act gives priority to renewable energy in the energy grid before dirty forms of energy, securing a place for renewables in the energy marketplace.  The plan also includes major expansions of the energy grid, consumer-based incentives, market-based emissions reductions and, all in all, reads as a gigantic climate and renewable energy high five.  

In stark contrast, the world is watching closely as the U.S. undergoes a climate-unfortunate “re-industrialization”.  Our own domestic energy transformation includes the “shale gas miracle”—or curse—of untapped natural shale gas reserves and the increased call for hydraulic fracking—a method of natural gas extraction that has lead to dramatic health and environmental concerns by many communities and a burgeoning anti-fracking movement. Many speak of the “shale gas miracle” as the key to U.S. energy independence. The U.S. Energy Information Administration predicts a 44% increase in U.S. natural gas production from 2011 to 2040. Additionally, according to a November, 2012, L.A. Times article, “The U.S. will become the world’s top producer of oil by 2020, a net exporter of oil around 2030 and nearly self-sufficient in energy by 2035, according to a new report from the International Energy Agency.”  The popular rhetoric of U.S. energy independence seems to be the only climate or energy discussion to have successfully infiltrated U.S. media and crossed party lines—with “energy security” as a close runner-up. However, as we learned as teenagers, all this “independence” comes with a price (think: global climate change) and increased responsibility (is it time to become a global climate player?).  Germany, on the other hand, has historically been an energy dependent nation ( currently importing 70% of its energy) with longtime dependency of natural gas from Russia and coal and oil imports from a diversity of countries.  As the U.S. leads the way in per capita greenhouse gas emissions, our “energy independence” being centered on an INCREASE in fossil fuel extraction is problematic.  No matter how you look at it, Germany is phasing out fossil fuels and the U.S. is phasing up fossil fuels. 

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