The Germans call their nation’s energy policy Energiewende. But the literal translation of the word — energy transition — belies the green revolution behind those few syllables.
For Germany, the word is synonymous with a gradual, but nonetheless radical, shift away from fossil fuels toward renewable energy. Germany is today one of the world’s leading producers of green energy, with 27 percent of its power needs generated by solar, wind and hydroelectric power, among other sources.
On some sunny days, half of Germany’s energy demands are met by solar power, something critics of U.S. energy policy say remains a vain hope in the states.
At an energy summit Friday organized by the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council, a Miami-based consul general for Germany described how his country navigated some of the very same challenges seen today in the United States to become a renewable energy powerhouse.
“It was a long and painful process grown out of the need to do something since Germany as an export nation is in a unique situation,” Juergen Borsch said during a half-hour speech at the Hilton Carillon Park in St. Petersburg. “We don’t have the raw materials. We had a situation that was crying to take action.”
The United States meets about 13 percent of its energy needs through renewable supplies, according to Borsch.
He said Germany struggled to create an energy policy with incentives for businesses and residents that was “pushy enough to move things ahead” but also “cautious enough not to have people back up and turn away.”
The result, Borsch said, is an energy policy that has created jobs and wealth.
“Thanks to more than 20 years of government incentives, green electricity is no longer a niche product but the mainstay of Germany’s power supply,” Borsch said.
He said it is Germany’s goal to produce 80 percent of its energy needs through renewable sources by 2050. Today, he said, Germany’s energy policy enjoys widespread support among both citizens and business.
“Our goals are ambitious,” Borsch said. “But we found out they worked.”
Borsch said German utilities were reluctant to give up their monopolies and embrace the concept of electricity buy-backs from third parties who might be producing power from a solar array. Surcharges on power bills to fund energy initiatives were received coolly by Germans. And he said the government sometimes stumbled in its energy policy early on.
Germans also are learning to be more energy efficient, Borsch said. Energy demand fell last year to the lowest level since German unification in 1990, he said. He noted that anyone wanting to wash their hands in one Berlin government building could do so only with cold water.
But the transition to renewable energy, Borsch said, has proved profitable to German business and the German economy as a whole, allowing Germany to export its own technology and expertise to create jobs.
“Our message is to show the switch from fossil to renewable energy sources is possible and profitable,” Borsch said. “This is what we want to share with our international partners.”