Leading the Way or Lights Out? Germany’s Nuclear Exit and U.S. Energy Perspectives - Greening the Economy

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October 21, 2011

One reason why Germany seems more successful than the United States in transitioning toward a low-carbon economy is a stronger political consensus on the right way forward. This is the takeaway of Franz Untersteller, Minister for the Environment, Climate, and Energy of the German state of Baden-Württemberg. Minister Untersteller visited Washington DC on October 3 to discuss Germany’s nuclear phase-out as well as American energy perspectives.

Baden-Württemberg is now undergoing an ambitious push towards replacing its electricity-generating nuclear power sources with renewable energy sources. The task is an ambitious one, because the state has twice the national average for electricity generation via nuclear energy. Baden-Württemberg is also the economic heartland of the German economy with companies such as Porsche, Daimler, and Bosch.

Minister Untersteller discussed why and how Germany is striving toward a low-carbon economy in which nuclear and fossil fuels will be replaced with renewable energy and efficiency technologies. The nuclear phase-out by 2022 is accompa-nied by several other elements, such as a substantial rise in the share of renewable energy in the country’s energy mix, projected to reach 38 percent of the national electricity supply by 2020, compared to 20 percent today and 6 percent in 2000; the use of more flexible natural gas power plants; high investments in the electric power grid and storage technologies.

Progress has been made in recent years, e.g. with solar power. On sunny days, photovoltaic provides already 25% of the power demand in Baden-Württemberg. Being asked about his opinion why Germany seems to move faster along the re-newable alley than the United States, Untersteller identifies several reasons. First, the consensus for renewable energy transition is broadly shared by German society as well as its political parties. “The only difference in opinion we have is the speed with which we should be applying the change.” A missing national consensus on energy issues hinders the U.S. from making similar accomplishments.

Additionally, continuing skepticism about climate change and the role of fossil fuel lobbyists in perpetuating that doubt is another important reason. In contrast to Germany, says Minister Untersteller, “we don’t have the situation like you have in the U.S., where you have the Koch brothers.”


Think Progress, October 4, 2011

Revolt, October 4, 2011