Sunday May 18, 2014 marked an historic day in the all-time energy hallmarks of the world. Germany had 74% of its electrical power, just about ¾, of all its peak power demand at midday generated from renewable sources – solar thermal and photovoltaic (PV) solar cells, wind energy and biomass – with the remaining ¼ coming from dirty fossil fuels, carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas (GHG) gases emittin genergy generation such as coal, oil, natural gas and nuclear energy.
On Monday, November 17, 2008, I had the great honor and pleasure to host the late Dr. Hermann Scheer at the newly opened first LEED-certified auditorium at the Institute for the Environment at UCLA, then having Dr. Mary Nichols as its Director, now currently serving as the chair of the California Air Resources Board, for a free and open to the public lecture titled “Energy Autonomy” that I had organized earlier in collaboration with the 100% Renewables Policy Institute, while working towards my doctorate in engineering at UCLA.
Dr. Scheer was an elected Social Democrat member for 28 years to the Bundestag, the German Parliament, President of Eurosolar, the largest European Association for Renewable Energy, General Chairman of the World Council for Renewable Energy, and was awarded the Right Livelihood Award, also known as the Alternate Nobel Prize, given in a ceremony at the Riksdag, the Swedish Parliament, in Stockholm, Sweden, on the day before all the other Nobel prizes are awarded, for his “indefatigable work for the promotion of solar energyworldwide.”
The Right Livelihood Award was originally intended to be a new annual Nobel Prize, made possible by a donation by the German-Swedish philanthropist Jakob von Uexkull in 1980. The candidates are selected by an international jury panel, invited by the five regular Right Livelihood Award board members, which then awards the prize in such fields as environmental protection, human rights, sustainable development, health, education, and peace. The Alternate Nobel Prize moniker denotes the regrettable failure of the Nobel Prize committee to come to a decision to award a prize in the aforementioned categories in spite of the generous Uexkull’s offer to provide for the award costs.
Dr. Scheer had a truly fascinating story to share with the audience of UCLA students, faculty and general public in the packed full auditorium, crowded with a German film crew and a van full of $100,000 dollars/each professional video cameras, light and audio equipment. Germany’s saga was of how a portentous, top notch, state of the art industrialized country was being powered solely by solar, wind and biomass renewable energies, while eliminating the use of all dirty fossil fuels, gas, oil, coal and permanently shutting down their nuclear power stations, in just a few decades.
In November 2008, Germany had already reached the point where it was getting over 20% of its electrical power from renewable sources every single day, hovering at 50-60% on days of low peak demand, which constitutes a formidable milestone that clearly demonstrates thatrenewable sources can power a large industrial nation. Germany had come this far in one single decade and had seriously demonstrated to the entire world that renewables aren’t just a potential source of power sometime in the distant future, but that they are totally viable and achievable today, right now, as well as far back as 2008.
I am not particularly worried about Congress being utterly unable to set up the time and date to have lunch or coffee together. I am convinced that Congress, at least, can all agree on that, especially when we, the taxpayers, are the ones picking up the tab. It may quite arduous to sway the congressmen as to what to eat, though. Dr. Scheer not only wrote, convinced, took to a vote and passed the solar/wind/renewable energy feed in tariff (FIT) law in the Bundestag, the entire German Parliament, but also persuaded an entire nation as to the good sense, ageless wisdom, maturity and prudence of abandoning the use of dirty, greenhouse-emitting fossil fuels and failed, disastrous nuclear technology.
How did the Germans do it? Very simply. Look into your electric bill and find out how much you pay per kWh. That’s the price for energy use in your household or business. I pay about 13 cents per kWh. Your cost may vary, depending on where you live. Germany offered not 13, 14, 40, 50, 70 or 80 cents per kWh, but 84 cents per kWh for energy fed into the grid being generated by small solar or wind power installations, under the German Renewable Energy Act and FIT laws.
German people saw the tremendous business opportunity right away and got to work. With that kind of incentive, well, what do you expect will happen? People will act. The result is that, from the 27% of total electrical power that was generated by renewable energy sources in the first quarter of 2014, about 18% came from small installations, family homes, co-ops and communities owned, controlled and operated by the people. This represents about 65% ownership and it is literally power by the people, as opposed to about 2% ownership by the people in the US, 98% of renewables being in the hands of big corporations and operators with the big money and the wrong attitude. To put this in perspective, 27% is about 25 GigaWatts of daily average power generation, equivalent to about 20 big nuclear power reactors, about half of the peak power demand of California on a midsummer hot afternoon. Fivefold this amount and we can shut down all nukes in the US.
In addition, the German government reports that the country was home to an estimated 371,000 direct and indirect jobs in the renewables sector in 2013. This figure is expected to reach 400,000-500,000 by 2020, and 710,000 by 2030. In the United States, the renewables sector employed 625,000 people directly and indirectly in the same period, with the bulk mostly concentrated around the bio/fuels/mass industry . The US generates a little over 13% of its total electrical power needs from renewables in 2013, with the bulk coming from hydroelectric and biomass, which points to another interesting fact. Germany costs per kW of solar/wind power generation installed are lower by about half the costs per installed kW in the US, mainly by realizing savings in a streamlined approval process with reduced bureaucracy (burocrazy?), and most importantly, way less overhead and installation costs, i.e., the middlemen.
A good story does not end here; it will never end. It should be front page in all the world newspapers: “Extra,” “Extra,” “Germany busts all renewable energy myths.” Instead, the “main” (propaganda) press in the US answered with the sound of crickets. Not that there is anything wrong with crickets. The current 28 countries of the European Union recognized a good thing when they saw one, were smart enough not to re-invent the wheel when they did not have to, and adopted the same German FIT laws and approach. Another 40 countries around the world are considering adopting them, or have already enacted similar laws. Ontario recently adopted the German FIT laws and asked Dr. Scheer to help draft them just before he passed away. What Germany has accomplished is a magnificent achievement not only for the environment, industry, science, engineering and technology, but also in politics, economics, ethics, morals and society. Thank you Dr. Scheer and to everyone, men and women alike, who you were able to bring together around the same table to put on an honest day’s work for a sane, livable, healthy, peaceful, prosperous and happy world, a great lesson that our US Congress still has to learn. Your service to humanity is incommensurable.
 Institute for Sustainable Engineering. www.ise-now.org/events.php
 100% Renewables Policy Institute. www.renewables100.org/
 WorldWatch Institute, www.worldwatch.org and International Renewables Energy Agency www.irena.org