Germany is committed to the Paris Agreements and Chancellor Angela Merkel has pledged to reduce the country’s carbon footprint.
Most Germans are outraged that the American President has decided to withdraw the United States from an Agreement that has been signed by over 190 nations. Until they were recently surpassed by China, the US- which makes up a mere 4% of the world’s population – were the world’s largest CO2 producer/polluter. Germans wonder how they can abandon a strategic international plan to reduce the pace of global warming which threatens all of us?
It’s not just moral outrage, though – Germans wonder how the President can be so blind to the economic opportunities in renewable energy.
My husband, Armin Wulf, became an authority in renewable energy when he, together with Frank Groneberg, started a solar energy company in Northern Germany in 2003. I asked Armin what Germany’s commitment to renewable energy has meant for the country’s economy. He was so enthusiastic about answering my questions that his oatmeal got cold.
What follows is an excerpt of our conversation. I’m going to Germany in July and will be posting more on the subject of renewable energy when I’m over there.
Tell us a little about Germany’s renewable energy history.
Armin: The Green Party was the main initiator of the German Renewable Energy Source Act (EEG in German) that was passed in 2003. This act financially secured the investments in renewable energy sources like wind and solar. It stipulated guaranteed minimum payments for twenty years for all electricity sourced by renewable means.
The government paid for this?
Armin: No. All electricity users in Germany paid a little bit more per Kilowatt hour and the small price hike went towards funding the guaranteed price for electricity generated by the renewable energy projects.
Who pioneered actual wind and solar energy production?
Armin: Because of this federally guaranteed price for electricity, private citizens, farmers citizens’ initiatives and small companies were able to get bank loans to build wind parks and solar farms. Large corporations – utility companies – were not foresighted and nimble enough to take advantage of this opportunity. They got involved much later, once they saw how successful and profitable the small scale projects were.
So the first projects were mostly local and regional?
Armin: Yes. We saw an enormous hike in installation of wind and solar projects. Take Nordfriesland, one of the poorest regions in Germany. This windy area prospered. Farmers who were going under were able to expand into ‘energy farming.’
Another thing - the money created by the renewable energy projects stays in the communities and in the region. Research shows that every Euro invested in renewable energy brings at least one hundred Euros into circulation, mostly into the local economies. Nordfriesland is doing very well right now.
What’s happening now?
Armin: the first innovation created by the Renewable Energy Act - the wind parks and solar farms – led to the second. Project installations progressed so fast that the existing electrical grid wasn’t able to keep up. So then came the next stage: Germany has been building an extended up-to-date country-wide electrical grid so that renewably generated electricity will be available at any point where it’s needed. That means jobs, jobs, jobs.
What’s the future of renewable energy in Germany?
Armin: The future is already happening. Germany enjoys the lowest unemployment rate in its history. And there’s a beehive of activity related to renewable energy, in all regions, at all levels: loading stations for electrical cars, storage of electricity, intelligent grid management, and more.
There’s been a shift in consciousness, too. Germans – and Europeans in general – have always been more energy aware than Americans. Now, the demand for energy efficient housing and electric cars is soaring. That means more jobs and more innovation.
How do you see Trump’s decision to abandon the Paris Agreement?
Armin: Short-sighted, to say the least. He can’t stop progress. Even the Saudis are already operating some oil pumps with solar energy. There’s no question about it - renewable energy is the most competitive energy source of today and will become even more so in the future. Leaving the Paris Agreement is a strong signal to US companies – the automobile industry, energy production - to stick with outdated technologies and to continue to burn scarce resources. High cost, high risk, high pollution fracking instead of harvesting the sun that shines for free and the wind that always blows. This only makes sense for the old guard – those wanting to protect their investments in oil and coal.
I can’t believe Trump is allowing – even pushing - the United States to go backward and lose their competitive edge.