Renewable energy journalist Osha Gray Davidson recently released a book called Clean Break, detailing the German Energiewende (translation: energy change). It’s a story of how the Germans systematically shifted to clean energy, finding as they proceeded that the possibilities were greater, the costs lower, and the benefits for ordinary citizens more prodigious than anyone could have forecast. From the book:
“We’ll definitely get to 35 percent renewable power by 2020,” [Dr. Joachim Pfeiffer, a leading spokesman for the center-right Christian Democrats] said, referring to the next official target. “In fact, we’ll probably reach 40 percent.”
…A whopping 65 percent of the country’s total renewable power capacity is now owned by individuals, cooperatives and communities, leaving Germany’s once all‐powerful utilities with just a sliver (6.5 percent) of this burgeoning sector.
It’s a good lesson for the U.S., where policy makers often feel that they have to cater to set expectations based on entrenched interests (e.g. utilities and fossil fuel companies), and where the Germans took their inspiration from (in President Carter’s response to the energy crisis). President Reagan undid most of our progress, and the German lead on clean energy is the result of our belated return to the game. Clean Break shows how the Germans have led, and how (in turn) the U.S. can regain its leadership role in clean energy.
My recommendation? Read this book. Buy it for $1.
And believe that we can do the same.
In the face of modest renewable resources and a grid dominated by large fossil fuel and nuclear power, Clean Break is the story of how committed German citizens have achieved remarkable energy change. It’s the story of the democratizing and renewablizing an entire country’s electricity system from the bottom up, a triumph of local power.
What the German people have accomplished is like the American Apollo Program landing on Mars instead, five years ahead of schedule, and powered by a million citizen-built sparklers. And that’s just the first stop. Clean Break helps Americans understand that they don’t have to be left behind.
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