Learning From Germany
Despite the fact that Germany has far fewer renewable energy resources than the U.S., Berlin is surging ahead of Washington in terms of green job creation. In just the last eight years, Germany has generated 300,000 jobs in the renewable energy sector (their fastest-growing in fact), while the U.S. has struggled to keep the renewable energy jobs it does have from being outsourced. Which begs the question: how did a country that has fewer sunny days per year than Seattle become such a clean energy powerhouse? In a word, policy.
Dr. Klaus Scharioth, the German Ambassador to the U.S., and the keynote speaker of a recent Capitol Hill briefing co-sponsored by the Heinrich Böll Stiftung Foundation, discussed how the feed-in tariff (FiT), a fixed amount of money given to the producer of renewable energy by all electricity consumers, was perhaps the most successful policy for spurring such a massive deployment of renewable energy. To put it in context, from 2001 to 2009, Germany’s share of renewable energy in the country’s overall energy mix grew from 6.2% to 16%. At the same time, greenhouse gases (GHGs) fell by 28%from 1990 levels, far surpassing the 21% mandate set by the Kyoto Protocol.
Now, the skeptics in America may say that this is all well and good, but there must have been some trade-off in economic growth. Im Gegenteil (on the contrary)! Germany’s GDP actually grew 13% since the FiT was enacted, according to the ambassador. And that is only the beginning. In the next decade, the renewables industry in Germany predicts the deployment of clean energy to rise to 47%. By 2050, Germany hopes to increase its share of renewable energy to 80% — and there are some that believe the country could be completely self-sufficient on renewables by that time—which Dr. Scharioth says will be accomplished in a two-prong fashion: by investing more heavily in renewable energy and increasing energy efficiency gains.
So, how can the U.S. compete not only with Germany, but with Asia’s Rising Tigers as well, which are making similar commitments? Yvette Pena Lopes, director of legislation and intergovernmental affairs at the Blue Green Alliance, believes that one solution would be to focus on strengthening and extending the policies that are already in place, such as the manufacturing tax credit and the treasury grant program. She also called for the U.S. Senate to pass a renewable electricity standard (RES), which would almost certainly give business the long-term confidence to invest in clean energy with certainty. Aaron Peterson, vice president of project and business development at juwi Wind LLC, concurred, adding that if three key elements were guaranteed—price, interconnection and long-term contracts for clean energy projects—the U.S. would be a much more compelling market for investors.
Granted, while a feed-in tariff would probably not sit well for most U.S. policymakers, having something like a Standard Offer Program like the SPEED program in Vermont, might. The overarching point from the panel was that trying something is far better than doing nothing at this point. When Germany committed to renewable energy on a large scale, there was uncertainty and imperfect policies to be sure, but what encouraged that country to persevere was an unwavering conviction that this was the right thing to do. If America follows in Germany’s footsteps now, in a decade’s time, the U.S. might just be showing the world the way once again.