Germany: The Gold Standard of Long-Term Renewables Strategy

By Bob Cleaves | January 07, 2013

This year, Germany implemented “Energiewende,” a decades-long, common-sense strategy for promoting sustainable, clean energy. Already, the Germans are producing 25 percent of their energy from renewable sources, with biomass accounting for 22 percent of all renewable energy.

The strategy isn’t so different from what we have been talking about for years here in the U.S., and in some cases, implemented on a state level. The Germans, however, have been much more successful in putting ideas into workable national policy.

One way that the German approach is different from ours is how they talk about energy policy. The conservative German government has cleverly tied its new strategy to market principles, in addition to the sustainability and environmental messages. Often in the U.S., sustainable energy is framed in binary terms. The right wing is hesitant to interfere with market forces, while the left wing idealizes carbon-free solutions that are unattainable. As a result, it’s hard to find the middle ground where we can agree that long-term investment in a variety of energy solutions makes sense for both market and environmental concerns. 

Another way that German policy differs from ours is the degree to which individual Germans are invested in the country’s energy outcomes. This program has decentralized energy generation, making funding available to local utilities, individual energy producers and rural communities. This has enabled highly-tailored, localized energy solutions, the opposite of one-size-fits-all.

The best part about this plan is that it is projected to create significant job growth, alongside major savings on energy. The Germans believe that by 2020, they will have added 500,000 jobs to their economy, and they will be making a dent in their national debt by annually spending 22 billion euros less on fossil fuels.

Hopefully, if and when the U.S. gets around to confronting our energy future, we will be able to emulate parts of Energiewende. If we can learn one thing from the Germans, it should be that the market and the environment don’t have to be opposing forces.

Author: Bob Cleaves
President and CEO, Biomass Power Association