A state in Germany’s industrial heartland is moving quickly to replace nuclear power with renewable energy, a transition that supporters say could be applied in the United States to reduce our reliance on coal.
The state of Baden-Württemberg, home to Mercedes-Benz and a strong manufacturing sector, faces abrupt changes to its energy systems as Germany strives to close its 17 nuclear power plants over the next 12 years. About half of the state’s electricity derives from nuclear generation, or double the national average.
Officials aim to lean heavily on renewable energy sources like solar, wind, hydro and biomass, which are expected to provide at least 80 percent of the state’s electricity by 2050. Germany is already moving in that direction, with about 20 percent of its power currently coming from renewable sources.
So Climatewire (subs. req’d) reports today.
At the same time, NPR reports the pro-pollution extremists running the House say American’s aren’t up to the task:
Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-FL), who chairs an energy and commerce subcommittee on oversight and investigations, originally supported the program when Congress created it….
“We can’t compete with China to make solar panels and wind turbines,” Stearns says.
Seriously. We invented the modern solar cell, but after that, the GOP says, Americans can’t compete.
UPDATE: CAP’s Kate Gordon explains at the end why the GOP’s stunning willingness to conceding the clean-energy race to other countries is un-American.
How can Germany do what the GOP says Americans can’t? They have a bipartisan consensus and no climate denial machine, according to a leading German politician:
“The state government of Baden-Württemberg is extremely committed to the transition towards a low-carbon economy,” Franz Untersteller, state minister for the environment, climate and energy, said yesterday at the Center for American Progress. “We aim at decarbonizing our economy by midcentury.”
The state, the capital of which is the industrial hub of Stuttgart, is already complying with a national renewable energy standard and European initiatives that reduce greenhouse gases and increase energy efficiency. But it’s pursuing its own goals, too, including one state initiative requiring homeowners to use renewable energy for residential heating….
“The great advantage we have in Germany at the moment is we really have the broad consensus in society that corresponds to the size of the task we face,” said Ulrich Luscher, who represents the CDU, the conservative party, on energy issues. “I definitely agree … that we have enormous possibilities for the economy in that [clean energy] sector.”
There’s also agreement about the impacts of fossil fuels on the environment.
“The other thing is we believe in climate change,” said Frithjof Staiß, managing director of the Center for Solar Energy and Hydrogen Research, which develops clean energy technologies with funding from the government, industry and research groups.
Bracken Hendricks, a scholar with the Center for American Progress, says the German model shows that renewable energy can be ramped up quickly without large electricity price spikes. It can also create jobs, he adds, not decimate the workforce, as Republicans often claim.
“The costs turn out to be grossly exaggerated and the benefits are understated in our political debate,” Hendricks said.
There’s another element at play in the United States that the Germans found unusual. That’s the amount of skepticism around climate change and the industrial forces at play to promote scientific doubt.
“We don’t have the situation like you have in the U.S., where you have this Koch brothers,” Untersteller said, referring to the billionaire heirs of Koch Industries.
And that may be Germany’s biggest competitive advantage.
UPDATE: TP Green has a post by Kate Gordon, Vice President of Energy Policy at the Center for American Progress, responding to the GOP’s apparent surrender on clean energy:
The statement by Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-FL) that we can’t compete with China on clean energy manufacturing is not only untrue, it’s frankly un-American. Lest we forget, the U.S. is a major manufacturer, with 12 percent of our GDP coming from the manufacturing sector. To put that in perspective, when we recently lost less than 4 percent of GDP after the housing bubble burst, we called it a “Great Recession.” Twelve percent is a lot. And in the clean economy, including renewable energy, efficiency, clean transit, and transportation, more than a quarter of all jobs are in manufacturing.So maybe Mr. Stearns didn’t get the memo, but we’re already competing with China on clean energy manufacturing in general, and in solar and wind manufacturing in particular. We actually export solar panel components to China, which – along with Germany – is actually the leading destination for most of those exports. And in the wind sector, there are over 400 manufacturing firms across America making the component parts of our domestic wind turbines, and we not only make about 50 percent of all the wind components we use here in the U.S., but we also export parts to Canada, Mexico, Chile, and other countries.
Sure, China may sometimes out-compete us when it comes to mass manufacturing of mature technologies, using lower labor costs and strong subsidies. But where America excels has always been in more advanced manufacturing of new and emerging technologies, where our high-skill workers, proximity to inventors and engineers, and strong university and lab support make us a leader.
The big question facing the U.S. is not whether we’re capable of competing with China to manufacture the clean energy future. The question is whether political leaders like Mr. Stearns will develop the courage and vision to embrace that future. Right now there are millions of Americans with jobs in clean energy innovation, manufacturing, installation, operations, and maintenance. But if Congress can’t get it together to pass the policies and programs we need to ensure a stable market for clean energy technologies, our existing clean energy companies may just start looking elsewhere for a better deal. And then China really will win.
Indeed, in this case, the U.S. will end up third, behind China and German.