The answer is, you don’t.
The Germans have a reputation as hard-headed, practical and technically capable, and that reputation is being borne out — so far — as Germany moves quickly toward green energy. In 2000, the highly industrialized country produced just 6 percent of its electricity through renewable sources such as wind and solar; by 2011, that number had jumped to 20 percent.
And as Technology Review points out, the biggest step is yet to come, with Germany aiming to meet 35 percent of its electricity needs through renewables by 2020:
In 2010, the German government declared that it would undertake what has popularly come to be called an Energiewende — an energy turn, or energy revolution. This switch from fossil fuels to renewable energy is the most ambitious ever attempted by a heavily industrialized country: It aims to cut greenhouse-gas emissions 40 percent from 1990 levels by 2020, and 80 percent by mid-century.
The goal was challenging, but it was made somewhat easier by the fact that Germany already generated more than 20 percent of its electricity from nuclear power, which produces almost no greenhouse gases. Then last year, responding to public concern over the post-tsunami nuclear disaster in Fukushima, Japan, Chancellor Angela Merkel ordered the eight oldest German nuclear plants shut down right away. A few months later, the government finalized a plan to shut the remaining nine by 2022. Now the Energiewende includes a turn away from Germany’s biggest source of low-carbon electricity.
Germany has set itself up for a grand experiment that could have repercussions for all of Europe, which depends heavily on German economic strength. The country must build and use renewable energy technologies at unprecedented scales, at enormous but uncertain cost, while reducing energy use. And it must pull it all off without undercutting industry, which relies on reasonably priced, reliable power. “In a sense, the Energiewende is a political statement without a technical solution,” says Stephan Reimelt, CEO of GE Energy Germany. “Germany is forcing itself toward innovation. What this generates is a large industrial laboratory at a size which has never been done before. We will have to try a lot of different technologies to get there.”
How can Germany hope to pull off such a feat without driving electricity prices so high that industry is forced to leave? In part, by making residential customers and small business — captive users, in other words — pay the brunt of the increased cost, while largely exempting major industry.
Even with that arrangement, many business leaders are still not convinced it’s feasible, with one prominent German CEO referring to Energiewende as a “political wish that is without a realistic view of what is achievable.”
Such nervousness is understandable, given the enormity of the task that Germany has set for itself. German officials acknowledge that the technology does not yet exist to make their goal a reality. In effect, they are gambling that necessity will once again be the mother of invention, forcing innovation that otherwise would not occur.
So far, the progress that they’ve made is impressive. But as an American, I’m even more impressed with the fact that their political leadership is capable of undertaking such a bold campaign, with support across the political spectrum. Sadly, that capability seems to have atrophied on this side of the Atlantic.
– Jay Bookman