How Germany is preparing to get to 100 percent renewable energy by 2050

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

solar-panels-in-bernal-340In Germany there is no debate on climate change and whether it is real or not. The temperature for the past 10 months has been three degrees above average and Germany is again on course for the warmest year on record. There is also no dispute among Germans as to whether this change is man-made, or that we contribute to it and that we need to stop accelerating the process. It is being taken as read.

Since 2000, Germany has converted 25 percent of its power grid to renewable energy sources such as solar, wind and biomass. The architects of the clean energy movement, of the Energiewende, which translates to “energy change” of “energy transformation,” estimate that from 80 percent to 100 percent of Germany’s electricity will come from renewable sources by 2050.

Germans are baffled that the United States and the UK have not taken the same path. Not only is the U.S. the wealthiest nation in the world, but it’s also credited with jump-starting Germany’s green movement 40 years ago.

It is very much considered in Germany to be an American idea and considered to have been inspired by President Carter. However, the GOP is doing all it can to prevent such implementation in the US. And the same is true in Britain where the government is retreating on promises to be the “greenest government ever”.

Germany adopted and continued Carter’s push for energy conservation while the U.S. abandoned further efforts. The death of an American Energiewende solidified when President Ronald Reagan ripped down the solar panels atop the White House that Carter had installed.

The steps taken by President Obama and the First Lady with regards to creating an organic garden at the White House are small fries. So far the solar panels that Carter stood for in regards to renewable energy have remained off the roof of the White House.

Ever since the time of Carter, Germany has created strong incentives for the public to invest in renewable energy and it pays people to generate electricity from solar panels on their houses and by other means. The effort to turn more consumers into producers is accelerated through generous feed-in tariffs, which are 20-year contracts that ensure a fixed price the government will pay. However, Germany has begun to lower the price yearly now, though still pays a much better rate than does the UK government and the UK feed-in tariff is not protected by long term contracts as is the German one.

The money the government uses to pay producers comes from a monthly surcharge on utility bills that everyone pays, similar to a rebate. Ratepayers pay an additional cost for the renewable energy fund and then get that money back from the government, at a profit, if they are producing their own energy and thus, in the end, ratepayers control the program, not the government.

This adds consistency. If the government itself paid, as in the UK and in the US, then it would be easy for a new finance minister to cut the program upon taking office. In Germany this funding is not at the whim of politicians and therefore a much greater participation is being ensured.

Everyone has a stake in this and the movement is decentralized and democratized, and that is why it works. Anybody in Germany can be a utility and many have worked out that it is most beneficial for them.

But even in Germany the future has not as yet been envisaged properly, I would say, for we are still playing with the high-voltage of 220V AC. The panels and wind turbines, however, create DC and that predominately in the 12V range. This energy must then be sent through an inverter to be converted to 220V AC and loss occurs.

We need to, everywhere, change the way we consume electricity and the voltage of it.

There is no needs for 220V AC (or higher) in our homes and even offices bar for the big equipment. All computers and lighting, etc., can run on 12V DC and thus the energy produced by panels and small wind should be used directly as it comes. Only for the larger appliances should it be necessary to use an inverter to create the higher voltage in AC.

We need to follow the lead set by Germany and get away from fossil fuel powered electricity generating plants as well as nuclear power. But, as we all know, our politicians can't get brown envelopes from the renewable energy lobby and therefore in the US and the UK renewable energy is still the Kellerkind, the unloved orphan.

© 2012