On September 20th, policy makers from Germany and the United States came together to discuss common ways for making renewable energies the driving force of industrial revolution of the 21st century. The conference took place as part of the Climate Network of the Heinrich Boell Foundation and marked the release of the publication Sharing Solutions: Transatlantic Cooperation for a Low-Carbon Economy.
Among the speakers were Johannes Remmel, Minister for climate protection and environment for the state of North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) and Jost de Jager, Minister of science and economic affairs for the state of Schleswig-Holstein. The presence of these two German Ministers on the same panel represented what environmental activists in the US have long dreamed of: the convergence of the progressive green party with the conservative party on the topic of renewable energy. Minister Jost de Jager, the leader of the Christian Democratic Union of the state Schleswig-Holstein, proclaimed that “the only way forward is to adopt sustainable and renewable forms of energy. The sooner this happens, and the more widespread they become, the better.”
Schleswig-Holstein and North Rhine-Westphalia are both investing heavily in the expansion of renewable energy. As such, Schleswig-Holstein has the largest wind capacity in Germany and is looking to expanding through offshore wind installations – Jost de Jager is planning to have 100% of electricity demand be covered by wind by 2020. A major challenge here will be to transmit the electricity to more populous regions of the country. The state of North Rhine-Westphalia is the largest state in terms of population and industrial capacity in Germany. It has also set itself ambitious climate goals for 2050 and aims to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 95% compared with 1990 levels. As stated by Mr. Remmel, “our response to the challenges of climate change is, in a single word, an "energy turnaround”. To reach this goal a bottom-up approach is needed – many municipalities are coming together to form so-called 100% renewable energy communities. Similarly, some states in Germany are employing a 100% renewable energy plan, more information on this can be found here.
To elaborate on the current policy-making difficulties faced in the US, both nationally on the state level, experts Heidi VanGenderen, Director of the American Council on Renewable Energy, and Rolf Nordstrom, Executive Director of the Great Plains Institute shared their knowledge and expounded on how the German successes can be a model for US policies. Nordstrom, who has particular expertise in the Midwestern states, highlighted the potential for renewable energy particularly wind and biomass, but recognized the barriers brought on by the looming budget deficits and high unemployment. VanGenderen from ACORE explained the difficulty of federal policies, which offer temporary, unpredictable tax credits, and how the states have to pick up the slack through complimentary policies such as Renewable Portfolio Standards which make up 80% of US non-hydro power generation. Both American speakers pointed to Germany’s consensus on climate change as a key to unlocking the political stalemate for renewable energy in the US and how policies such as the Feed in Tariff can be beneficial to revitalizing state economies.