The U.S. is falling behind. Again. This time it’s not to the Chinese (as is the case more often than not these days). This time, it’s to the Germans.
That’s right, folks, the Germans have surpassed the United States and reached a huge milestone. As of 2011, clean energy sources account of 20 percent of Germany’s electricity production. Of that 20 percent, only 3.3 percent comes from hydrological energy sources. They are now aiming for that overall number to reach 35 percent by 2020. Of note is that they plan to reach that number without the use of nuclear power. Following the accident at Fukushima Daiichi, German Chancellor Angela Merkel pivoted on her support for nuclear power and, like many other nations, has vowed to phase out nuclear power plants by 2022.
Let’s depress ourselves for a moment by comparing Germany’s feat to the current action (or lack there of) taking place in the United States. Despite recently released data from researchers at Yale University showing that the majority of Democrats, Independents, and Republicans support Germany’s pursuit of renewable energy, the federal government is not pursuing any policies to support a similar goal. Precisely , Yale found that “majorities of Democrats, Independents and Republicans support requiring electric utilities to produce at least 20% of their electricity from renewable energy sources, even if it cost the average household an extra $100 a year.” The last federal effort on this level came during 2009 in the form of the Waxman-Markey bill, otherwise known as the American Clean Energy and Security (ACES) bill. Recall that Waxman-Markey sought to require that 20 percent of electricity be generated by renewable energy resources. It would cost the average American a postage stamp a day, or $140 a year. It meets the two criteria enunciated by this Yale finding: 20 percent of electricity from renewables and the willingness to pay for that to happen. Yet, the bill died in the U.S. Senate.
The Yale poll also revealed that “majorities of all four political groups [Democrats, Republicans, Independents, and Tea Partiers] support funding more research into renewable energy sources such as solar and wind power and providing tax rebates for people who purchase energy efficient vehicles or solar panels.” There is some chatter in the U.S. Senate of helping further electric vehicles and electric vehicle infrastructure. But outside of a 30 percent tax rebate for solar installation, there is little more than chatter happening on this front.
Unlike Germany, you will see no pivot on nuclear power. Post-Fukushima, many members of Congress reaffirmed their support and belief in nuclear power. Nuclear power plants generate 20 percent of our nation’s electricity, even though no new nuclear plants have come online since 1974. Given this, nuclear power continues to receive substantial handouts from the federal government. Yet even in times of austerity, you don’t hear any of the tea party activists calling out to end the enormous subsidies for nuclear power.
As our politicians stay the path and (still) debate the merits of clean energy technology, Germany continues to make remarkable strides in transitioning onto a clean energy economy.
Oh, and they are doing so in the midst of the euro crisis.