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While Germany Is Headed for 80% Renewable Energy, We're Getting Left in the Dust

Osha Gray Davidson discusses his new book "Clean Break," about the keys to Germany's success with renewables and why the U.S. is getting its butt kicked.

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From that, Ursula and this group in town now run the largest green cooperative in Germany and they have 180,000 households and business members of their little company in this tiny town in the Black Forest.

I always ask "What lessons can Americans learn?" And the overwhelming theme was, "just start going it, that’s what we did." And Ursula is such a great example of that. It took them 10 years in this David and Goliath battle with their utility. As she’s pointed out, “we didn’t shut down a single nuke plant, and that was all we were trying to do. But we’ve helped start a renewable energy revolution."

When I asked her about what we Americans could learn, she didn’t answer at first and she looked around at this office she was in, the headquarters with solar panels on the roof and she said, "This is something that is very American isn’t it? You Americans are people who say we can do it — we can do it ourselves."

She in fact was inspired by Jimmy Carter, a lot of the people who started the Energiewende in Germany, including Hans-Josef Fell who was the main author of the Renewable Energy Act, he was inspired by Jimmy Carter and the renewable energy revolution that he tried to start here in the U.S. by putting solar panels on the roof of the White House and funding solar projects throughout the country and wind projects. Fell said he looked around and saw pictures of all of that and wondered why they couldn’t have that in Germany. And now the situation is simply reversed.

We did start down that road, and when Reagan came in a decision was made to scuttle that and to go back to dependence on fossil fuels.

I think that if Americans now take a look at Germany and see what they’ve done and start doing that now here, yes, I think we can get to where Germany is and in fact the National Renewable Energy Laboratories in Colorado, the main government technology center for renewable energies, came out with a report this past year that said by the year 2050 the U.S. could be getting 80 percent of our power from renewables; by coincidence, that’s exactly what Germany’s goal is.

We obviously have the resources to do it. So I think it’s a matter of political will and also empowerment. A lot of Americans feel there is nothing they can do because of all these big companies — well, I don’t have much patience for that. The Germans could have said the same thing, but they rolled up their sleeves and started taking action at a local level and eventually that forced political leaders to respond.

So, we shouldn’t whine about it — we should get busy and do it.

Osha Gray Davidson's new book Clean Break: The Story of Germany’s Energy Transformation and What Americans Can Learn From It (InsideClimate News, 2012), is available as an e-book here.

Tara Lohan is a freelance writer and former senior editor at AlterNet. She is the editor of two books on the global water crisis, including Water Matters: Why We Need to Act Now to Save Our Most Critical Resource. Follow her on Twitter @TaraLohan or visit her website, taralohan.com.

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