Ariel Goldberg
Ariel Goldberg

Germany’s green energy revolution

There has been a lot of noise lately regarding renewable energy and the lead up to the United Nations climate summit in Copenhagen.

Arnold Schwarzenegger recently signed an executive order to increase California’s renewable energy mix to 30% by 2020. He has finally managed to prove there is something more bizarre than a bodybuilding governor … namely a US Republican who wants to do something about global warming. There are also wonderful initiatives such as the 10:10 (ten by ten) campaign being launched in England in which individual citizens are making their stand in the global crisis by committing to reduce their own energy emissions by 10% in 2010. The British Medical Journal and Lancet published the same editorial last month stating that “failure to agree radical reductions in emissions spells a global health catastrophe, which is why health professionals must put their case forcefully now and after Copenhagen”.

The world is buzzing and the frequency is “how to avoid impending global catastrophe on a scale never before imagined”. It’s all rather exciting really … the great cause of our age has undeniably dawned and the internet generation hitherto obsessed with computer games and who’s dating who in Hollywood is being asked to step up to the plate and make something meaningful of our lives. The heat is being turned up in the proverbial kitchen and over the coming decades we, as a common humanity, are going to see whether or not we can stick around.

But for the present moment, as laudable and audible as all the buzzing might be … it’s still just that … buzzing … noise … plans and aspirations. Which is why I am particularly pleased to be sharing spaceship Earth with the Germans.

I came across the German Energy Policy Road Map 2020 after reading an article on Germany as “the world’s first major renewable energy economy”. This is indeed what they are striving to become and even more importantly, what they seem to be succeeding at. In 2000, the year that saw Germany adopt their Renewable Energy Resources Act, the proportion of the electricity generated from renewable sources was 6.3%. By 2008 this figure was already about 15%. They are making similar progress in their CO2-emission reduction targets. The Kyoto Protocol required industrialised nations to reduce their CO2 emissions by 5% of the 1990 levels by the year 2012. According to Wikipedia, Germany has not only met that target but has managed to reduce emissions by 19% of 1990 levels. I’m not completely sure that the figures from Wikipedia are correct, but one thing is certain and that is that they are doing a lot better than the rest of the world which has collective CO2 emissions at levels 40% higher than they were in 1990.

Their energy policy road map published earlier this year outlines the German government’s strategy with regards to energy leading up to 2020. It is built around two essential strategies. The first is to expand the use of renewable energies. A goal to generate at least 30% of electricity from renewable sources by 2020 is seen as an opportunity to create jobs and position Germany as the world leader in renewable energy technology, a position that will indubitably pay off as the necessity of sustainable technologies dawns around the globe. The second key strategy is “a massive boost to energy efficiency”, which will be achieved by overhauling their national grid and generating 40% of the electricity in “highly efficient coal-powered stations”.

All in all, the document paints a very enlightened picture of where we stand as humanity and what we need to be doing about the situation we are in. It is incredibly refreshing and encouraging compared to the host of excuses most other nations are putting forward. I sincerely hope that as we lead up to the climate summit in Copenhagen at the end of this year, the German government will be able to achieve the last goal outlined in their policy — “to bring international climate negotiations to a successful conclusion”.

  • Clean Air

    Thanks for this timely article Ariel.

    Someone must interview President Jacob Zuma and see if South Africa is going to lead Africa in the renewable energy revolution.

    In 2006 South Africa emitted 8.6 metric tons of CO2, Germany 9.7, USA 19 and Mozambuque 0.1, while Africa is going to be one of the worst continents affected by climate change.

    Renewable energy will provide many new jobs, what are we waiting for?

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  • Clean Air

    Correction to above post sentence should read “In 2006 South Africa emitted 8.6 metric tons of CO2 per capita, Germany 9.7, USA 19 and Mozambuque 0.1, while Africa is going to be one of the worst continents affected by climate change.” words “per capita” added.

  • Lady Salsa

    I love that! “The great cause of our age”. It’s true, it is exciting, and even more exciting is how ordinary people can get involved in this adventure, this mission. It takes many different strategies. IN my world, the rising costs of power have forced me to be recue my carbon footprint, but the buzz on the internet has also encouraged me to take this problem seriously and see it as my own personal responsibility. I find it encouraging that it has only been one or two years and the issue has definitely moved to the foreground and looks like it is settling in for a long stay. We can not give up, we can not let the ship sink, we have got to fight for our lives and the continuation of the species and the planet. But at least we’re not bored!

  • Andy

    Yes Lady Salsa

    If our government had not wasted billions of rands on the nuclear Pebble Bed Modular Reactors that the Germans abandoned in 1986, when they had an accident soon after Chernobyl in the Ukrane, we might have had cheaper electricity.

    Once you have the infrastructure for renewable energy, the wind and sun are for free. Nuclear gets more expensive by the day as uranium mines get deeper, and it emits unseen radiation, the costs of closing down old nuclear plants rise exponentially, and of course coal is costing us dearly in hidden costs such as climate change – more droughts, food shortages, more disease, freak weather, rising seas.

    Good old mother nature coming to the rescue with renewables.

  • Stephen

    Even without the environmental benefits, renewable energy is a great economic opportunity for South Africa, partcularily solar power. Concentrating Solar Power is a proven technology, its not difficult to manufacture, and is currently running in the US (see wikipedia article on SEGS). Like Germany, all citizen of SA need to see that noww is the time to establish leadership and knowledge of these tech’s so we can export them. Also, the coal we no longer burn can exported, to help our balance of payments situation. In SA we are also in a very fortunate position in that we have a tightly integrated distibution grid, which is an important factor an renewable supply tends to located far from demand. If President Zuma wants to create decent work, this is where he should focus.

  • MLH

    Remember the school in KZN that powered its computers with methane gas from its lavatories? Why isn’t every rural school now powered this way? You could charge a good few cell phones like that…
    Where there’s a will, there’s a way, but where there’s no will, it’s no way!

  • Green Dude

    If all the houses in townships put solar panels on their roofs, they could sell electricity to Eskom when they’re not using it themselves.

    With new solar energy technology, solar power becomes cheaper than coal:

    :-) :-) :-)

  • Michael Francis

    I just hope as more nations sign on my own rouge nation of Canada can be sent down a similar path. We currently are 35% above Kyoto commitments and our poor showing of a Prime Minister (Harper) is one of the last climate change denialist who is still a world leader. Individuals may make a change but so much still needs to be done before we reach the tipping point of no return. I am glad to see a nation stepping up like this.

  • rayjay

    @ Andy
    At the moment RERs are the more expensive option. I’m glad nuclear energy costs are rising because that is also a ‘dirty’ technology. Of course our powers that be were fascinated by nuclear as it looks so cheap before you go into the details, something they have difficulty doing. But this fixation on price is what has stopped SA from moving towards RERs.

  • Stephan

    Nice article there Ariel – theres a lot of negative media all the time so its nice to read about Arnie doing to some good work in the USA!

    Im now a chartered engineer (we were in the same class for some stuff at UCT) and Ill be coming back to SA early next year to try and get into the CSP industry somehow!

    Thanks and keep the positive articles coming!


  • MidaFo

    Good! Marvellous! Wonderful!

    Meanwhile we are arguably in the middle of the Great Climate War. All indications in the fine print and the real actions are that America is going it alone. This means stealing whatever they can from whomsoever they can and protecting themselves from the consequences of Climate Change while ensuring through the barrel of a gun that everyone else pays for this.

    Free enterprise! The best way to go! The Ameirican way to go!

    But of course most Americans will pay too because themselves above means the wealthy or connected enough in America. Make or brake! Losers must not complain! Evolution is a devilish myth in science but a Godly reality in economics. Free enterprise for psychopaths!

    Jesus Saves!

    But Jesus will not heal the earth for them.

    What a bunch of losers! They lose even when they win. We must ensure we do not lose too. America is not the problem of Americans, it is ours and it is our biggest one.

  • MidaFo

    Ah—through the barrel of a gun and the duplicity of their words

  • Andrew Taynton

    By the time politicians start to follow Germany’s example it could be too late:

    Organic Can Save the World from Climate Chaos

    “… carbon sequestration is the best way to buy time in a warming world. Cutting emissions will help, but not as immediately as sequestration…food production must be fundamentally restructured to simultaneously preempt and react to the devastating effects of climate change. …organic agriculture presents an untapped solution, an underutilized carbon sink at the ready. …if the world’s 3.5 billion tillable acres could be transitioned to organic agriculture now, land could sequester almost 40 percent of our current carbon emissions. No other proposed carbon mitigation solution comes close to that potential impact, particularly using existing and readily available technology.”

    Rodale Institute, February 2009

  • Andy

    Another way to combat/reduce global warming/climate change:

    “Global warming has been called humankind’s “greatest challenge” and the world’s most grave environmental threat, and science shows that one of the most effective ways to fight global warming is to go vegetarian.1

    Stars such as Sir Paul McCartney and Chrissie Hynde are lending their voices to share what science has already proven—that the meat industry is one of the leading sources of the greenhouse gases that lead to global warming.”

  • ishtar

    @ Lady Salsa: I’m so glad you’re excited about this and I welcome your energy. But as an old fighter in this fight, I do need to correct your statement that it has ‘only been one or two years and the issue has definitely moved to the foreground’.
    Al Gore’s film made this a popular and acceptable issue. But climate change has been under discussion, with increasing urgency, by scientists and journalists, for at least 20 years – I think it was 20 years ago that Dr Jim Hansen first put it on the table in the USA – no, I’ve just checked, his Senate testimony which brought it to public attention was in 1988.
    In the two decades between, any journalist writing on the subject was, until very recently, likely to get sneered at as a ‘greenie beanie’, ‘bunny hugger’ and the like. I can testify personally to that!
    I’ve been shouting as loudly as I can for close on ten years; yet only now, when time has actually run out – we will not see less than a 2 degree rise, I believe, no matter what we do – will anyone listen. And even then, they are still talking about energy-efficient light-bulbs, when what we need is to start doing unpleasant things, like shut down coal-fired power stations.
    Can the Internet generation become real activists for the planet? I bloody hope so, before the Kalahari Dunefields turn to Sahara, from Upington to Lusaka!

  • Green Evolution

    Now we need to decide which green energy technologies are good and which ones bad?

    Good biofules vs Bad biofuels?

    Good biofuels:

    1) Biogas China

    2) Green Algae for Carbon Capture and Biodiesel

    3) How to be Fuel and Food Rich Under Climate Change

    Bad biofuels:

    1) Biofuels: Biodevastation, Hunger & False Carbon Credits (a good general article)

    2) Biofuels Republic Brazil

    3) Biofuels for Oil Addicts

    4) The New Biofuel Republics

    5) Ethanol from Cellulose Biomass not Sustainable nor Environmentally Benign

    6) South East Asian Palm Oil, a Climate, Social and Ecological Catastrophe

    7) Biofuelwatch; several good reports and case studies in Southern Africa, Brazil and South East Asia :

    This may also be of interest:
    Which Energy?:

  • andrew

    South Africa is the only country in the world where you have to get a permit to grow trees (carbon sequestrators) and you can chop down anyamount of trees at will. Try chopping down a tree in UK and see how many permits you have to get, if you can get! Says something about African logic

  • Counter Spin


    Replacing grasslands and wetlands with trees (plantations) is not good for carbon sequestation. Natural wetlands and grasslands need to be restored. The African logic is good.

  • Andrew Taynton


    Wrong about plantations in SA and UK.

    In the UK some trees were planted in an eco-sensitive area and the government insisted they be up-rooted. In addition, plantations are not forests. Manmade mono-culture plantations damage biodiversity, the soil and drink kilo-litres of water, and they don’t reflect as much sunlight/heat as veld back into space.

  • Clean Air

    Have a look at the negative impacts of timber plantations on local rural populations, society and the environment, and some of their illegal activies despite permits being required for them in South Africa:

    PS. It is important not to confuse natural forests with man made timber plantations.