Germany’s Renewable War Path

Photo Credit: Smart Planet

Germany’s on the war path to be the most accomplished practitioner of renewable energy. They’re not only thinking of ways to become less reliant on fossil fuels, but actually implementing them (a novel concept, right?).

The Efficiency House Plus is a prototype unveiled by officials in Berlin. This home isn’t only built from recycled materials, but is energy-efficient, and self-sustaining–complete with an electric charging station for EVs. A family of volunteers will be chosen to stay in the house for 15 months to show that energy efficient, sustainable homes can (and do) exist in real world applications.

The first goal of this sustainable house is to produce twice as much energy needed by a family of four. The average American household uses about 958 kilowatt hours per month (11,496 kWh/year), according to the Energy Information Administration. Since the general Germany population seems to be more energy conscious, I’m going to guesstimate their energy usage at about 583 kilowatt hours per month (~7,000 kWh/year). At 14,000 kWh a year, the house can produce even more energy than used by the average American household!

There is a second underlying goal which I think is important to point out, and that is that the house uses solar, as well as energy management techniques to not only power the house, but provide enough energy for EVs, or to be sold back to the grid. Solar and energy management strategies aren’t new concepts–it’s important to show people that the technology to achieve a sustainable house is readily available to put in to practice now. It’s already possible to live like this; it’s not a Utopian dream of the future. The Efficiency House Plus will set the bar for efficiency measures that can be implemented by the masses.

The Efficiency House Plus not only has charging stations, but the volunteer family will be able to drive an EV from Germany’s four leading car manufactures (including Audi and BMW) for three months each.

As the Federal Minister of Building, Dr Peter Ramsauer, put it they’re keeping with the idea, ‘my home is my filling station’. With such strong support from auto manufacturers, the government, and the public, the Energy Efficiency House Plus will indeed meet the “fuel” needs of the EVs and the home’s energy needs, while showing the world that energy efficient homes can do more than be a topic of conversation; they can produce enough energy for our vehicles and potentially enough energy to return to the general grid. In the previous post, I mentioned how important cooperation is to achieve renewable energy goals, and The Efficiency House Plus shows once again, that Germany has a knack for getting things done, even while juggling political, industry, and public interests.

And who wouldn’t want a house that could power your car?

Feldheim Leading The Third Industrial Revolution

Have you ever heard of Feldheim, Germany? I hadn’t til this morning. But this tiny village nestled in rural eastern Germany is the site of a revolution. Eyes from the U.S. to Japan are watching to see if Germany’s dream of having a country powered entirely by renewable energy can become a reality. Feldheim’s certainly got the hang of it, as their village of 145 residents runs solely on solar, wind, and biogas.

As it is, Germany has the most ambitious renewable energy goals with legislation passed in June to have the country produce a third of its power from renewables within the decade, and 80% by 2050. And unlike some countries, their goals are coming to fruition: Germany passed the 20% mark of renewable generated power–seems like they’re well on their way to getting to 1/3 in the next ten years–that’s more than can be said for some countries and their renewable energy “goals”.

Expanding renewables involves a cocktail of resources from government subsidies, investment incentives, and a willingness from taxpayers. Taxpayers who help shoulder the burden support research, investment, and subsidize the production and consumption of renewable energy. This allows people who have invested in renewable energy to sell energy back to the grid for above market prices, and they can break even. Some critics say this is unfair to the taxpayer, which is why a precious balance must be maintained between the federal government and the private sectors, to avoid having the task of expanding renewables placed solely on the taxpayer’s dollars. As Germany readily realizes, they’ll have to shell out billions of dollars to update its grid and infrastructure.

In addition to a cocktail of financial support, a mixture of actual renewable energy sources is used in Feldheim (solar, wind, and biogas) to not only provide electricity, but jobs. No one in Feldheim is unemployed, compared to neighboring villages which have up to 30% unemployment, and our own California which has tapered its unemployment rate to about 11.3% according to the Employment Development Department.

Creating employment is key in driving the transformation to renewable energy. The creation of jobs will encourage investment and innovation from industries and that in itself will help boost employment. Germany has already employed 370,000 people (doubled from 2004) and is projecting solid growth in the renewable energy sector in the next decade. According to the Department of Energy, the U.S. in comparison has about 100,000 people working in the renewable energy field.

Germany’s field is ripe for the picking as far as renewable energy expansion and should be looked to as an example to strive towards. Germany has been able to achieve what seems impossible in most places: cooperation between the industrial sector, political policies, and (perhaps most importantly) a heightened sense of ecological sustainability within the general public. Germany could be the first country to initiate what’s been termed “The Third Industrial Revolution”; the ability for countries to move away from fossil-fuel based societies towards renewable energies and still maintain growth and profitability.

Even though Germany as a whole hasn’t reached its goals yet, the country, the industries, people like the residents of Feldheim, are taking pointed steps to leading the way in the renewable energy revolution. It seems wise that carbon heavy countries like the US should emulate their strategies.