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With Clean Break, a recommended 99 cent 'Kindle Single' purchase/read, Osha Gray Davidson has provided English speakers an enjoyable and illuminating look at Germany's Energiewende -- that wholesale societal shift commonly translated as "energy shift" and "energy transition".   Despite its booming economy -- in the powerhouse position of Europe -- and the mounting role that solar power is playing in its electricity system, despite having the solar resources of Alaska, anti-clean energy attack sound machine (like too much of the Grand Oil Party) pound home misdirections and erroneous information about Germany's move toward a clean-energy economy.  Clean Break, which reads like a collection of short essays, provides an easy-read counterpoint to that sound machine.

On flights around the United States, when coming into cities, I find myself looking for the (too) rare white roofed commercial structure and the even scarcer solar panel.  When arriving in Germany, even while prepared for this intellectually, the ubiquitous nature of 'white roofs' (energy efficiency) and solar panels (renewable energy) flabbergasted me.  Davidson had a similar experience:

The  pervasiveness  of  the  Energiewende was  driven  home  for  me  on  a  six-­hour   train  ride  through  the  German  countryside.  Gazing  out  the  window  as  the  train   raced  from  Hamburg  in  the  north  to  near  the  border  with  Switzerland  in  the  south,   massive  wind  turbines  and  rooftops  covered  with  solar  panels  were  seldom  out  of   sight.  A  couple  of  hours  into  the  journey  we  rounded  a  bend  and  the  scene  took  on  a   surreal  quality.  Yet  another  cluster  of  barns  and  outbuildings  came  into  view,  the   red  ceramic  roof  tiles  nearly  hidden  by  blue,  solar  photovoltaic  panels.  The  buildings   swam  in  a  sea  of  bright  yellow  rapeseed the  raw  material  of  biodiesel  fuel.  On  a   distant  slope,  the  long  thin  blades  of  three  wind  turbines  revolved  in  unison  as  if   choreographed.  I  was  suddenly  seized  by  the  desire  to  grab  the  well-­dressed  man  in   the  seat  next  to  me,  who  was  engrossed  in  today’s  Die  Zeit,  and  demand  that  he  look   out  the  window  and  tell  me  if  this  Energiewende parade  is  real  or  a  moveable   tableau  staged  for  foreign  journalists.
In Clean Break, Davidson lays out that Germany's Energiewende is no Potemkin village of feel-good activities, but a wide-ranging set of projects that are both loosely and tightly linked to the long-term objective of ending Germany's reliance on fossil fuel and nuclear power electricity systems.

Whether one vehemently agrees or vehemently disagrees with the German decision to walk away from nuclear power, Davidson provides exposure to the cultural and other driving factors behind that decisions.  Two key items: Chernobyl and Fukushima.  There are severe challenges in a move to a low-carbon-electricity system with removing nuclear power from the system. And, those challenges suggest that one think through the equation long and hard before making this choice.  Nuclear power is the most significant, at this time, low-carbon source of electricity.  From my perspective, much better to be using clean energy and energy efficiency to reduce coal (and natural gas) electricity production before targeting removing nuclear power from the generation system.  However, that is not the choice Germany has taken.

There are several key elements to the 'story':

  • The Energiewende is structured for economic benefits and strength at all economic levels.  The individual can 'make money' through solar or wind or biomass power even as large exporting industries are being protected from near-term cost premiums for the move to a cleaner energy structure.
  • Perhaps it is German culture, but the 'energy transition' is being done with a mindset for success.  Thus, for example, the need for storage and power management to deal with solar and wind intermittency isn't a "problem" but a task to be solved.
  • Germans are having success with "tasks" that America can learn from to help move forward EE/RE programs.  Even with union labor and higher wages, Germans can install solar systems for a fraction of the cost that Americans will find. Streamlined paperwork, standardized packages, volume of projects, and otherwise mean that a German installation might come at half the cost of one in the United States.
  • Germany and Germans found great inspiration in the United States (Jimmy Carter) and leveraged US investments (including buying up patents) that Ronald Reagan threw into the dustbin of history.  Germany is racing to an 80 percent renewable energy system -- and likely 100 percent or better (exports) -- by 2050 on the backs, in no small part, of US investments and US strategic thinking.

Germany's Energiewende was put into legal framework with comprehensive legislation in 2000.  On reading this book, my mind turned to the Supreme Court and Florida in December 2000 with an alternative history questioning as to whether President Gore might have forged a trans-Atlantic Energiewende ... Ah, the "could've been moment" ... Twelve years later, with a Democratic Party candidate (again) elected President without an opening for Supreme Court disruption of the election results, perhaps Clean Break,will provide a useful tool for moving the conversation toward accelerating such a trans-Atlantic power shift in the coming years.

NOTE:  Tuesday, 13 November, the author and commentators will be giving a two-hour presentation at the National Press Club in Washington, DC, from 0900-1100.

NOTE 2:  

Originally posted to A Siegel on Mon Nov 12, 2012 at 12:17 PM PST.

Also republished by Readers and Book Lovers, Climate Change SOS, Climate Hawks, and DK GreenRoots.

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Comment Preferences

  •  I am republishing to Readers & Book Lovers (8+ / 0-)

    and adding tags to get you into more than 1000 streams.

    Thanks for another interesting diary!

    Join us at Bookflurries-Bookchat on Wednesday nights 8:00 PM EST

    by cfk on Mon Nov 12, 2012 at 12:37:00 PM PST

  •  sounds great, when will it be available OFF Kindl? (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    A Siegel, xaxnar, Larsstephens

    we don't have a Kindl and don't plan on getting one. any idea how I can find this otherwise??

    a really strange choice to limit its availability so severely. not even available on iTunes...

    "real" work : a job where you wash your hands BEFORE you use the bathroom...

    by chimene on Mon Nov 12, 2012 at 01:10:44 PM PST

  •  Very timely post. It could be us, (6+ / 0-)

    it should be us, and hopefully it will be us in the very near future including their position on nuclear.  (I really like the way you stated the nuclear issue.  Haven't seen it incapsulated and stated more clearly anywhere else.) Will order and read.  Thanks!  

    If we really want to straighten out all this crap we need to really think about shit!

    by John Crapper on Mon Nov 12, 2012 at 01:56:14 PM PST

  •  I'm going to republish to Climate Change SOS n/t (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    citisven, Larsstephens

    If we really want to straighten out all this crap we need to really think about shit!

    by John Crapper on Mon Nov 12, 2012 at 01:57:04 PM PST

  •  I haven't read the book (6+ / 0-)

    but being German I've been seeing it with my own eyes. In the country side of Southern Germany, all the roofs, barn and others - are plastered in solar panels. I've been documenting for years but haven't had time to post a photo diary. This will motivate me to finally do it.

    here's just a teaser...

    IMG_3283

    Bergkirche

  •  White Roofs (6+ / 0-)

    Heard Manhattan Institute's Diana Furchtgott-Roth speak on CSPAN2 about her book Regulating to Disaster: How Green Jobs Policies Are Damaging America's Economy this weekend (http://www.booktv.org/...).

    It was interesting to me that even she is in favor of white roofs.  

    There is a forthcoming study from an MIT scholar about energy transitions in not only Germany but also Iceland, Brazil, and France.  Talked with the author at the recent MIT Energy Night at the MIT Museum.  There's some good news in that a significant energy transition can be accomplished in about 15 years.  I hope to be notified when the study becomes public.

    Solar is civil defense. Video of my small scale solar experiments at solarray.

    by gmoke on Mon Nov 12, 2012 at 03:19:13 PM PST

    •  Energy transitions in Iceland? (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Larsstephens, A Siegel

      We've pretty much always been geothermal and hydroelectric.

      We want to transition off of oil for transportation fuels but there's not been that much progress.

      •  Iceland (0+ / 0-)

        Before the banksters blew the country up, Iceland had plans to become the first hydrogen economy based upon geothermal.  Not sure what the paper discusses as I haven't read it yet but I have read some reports about the increasing use of energy in the bauxite mining and aluminum industries in Iceland.

        Solar is civil defense. Video of my small scale solar experiments at solarray.

        by gmoke on Wed Nov 14, 2012 at 09:48:06 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Iceland's hydrogen plans were mostly (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          A Siegel

          derailed by the fact that hydrogen sucks as fuel   ;)  That is to say, not only was the fuel really expensive, but they could hardly get any hydrogen vehicles and the ones they could get cost an utter fortune.  The hydrogen program here isn't dead but it's steadily being supplanted by electric.

          Bauxite isn't mined here but it is refined here - we import the bauxite, refine it, and sell the aluminum.  Basically, it's an indirect way to export electricity.  We've got more generation potential than you could shake a stick at, but a lot of people are understandably wary about using our pristine countryside for that.

  •  Germany has a history, as does Europe (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Lujane, A Siegel, Larsstephens

    We forget that Europe has a history of mass investment in rebuilding infrastructure - there was this thing called World War II that kind of trashed what they had big time. When the Berlin Wall came down and the Soviet Union broke up, there was a whole bunch of countries that had been stuck in a time warp - they needed both a lot of new infrastructure and clean up of environmental disasters to catch up with the rest of Europe. So, rebuilding on a large scale is not something that's new to them.

    Plus there's that socialism thing...

    Germany also had the problem of lots of coal, but not so much oil and that made WWII a teensy bit harder for them to fight. (Which come to think of it, also describes Japan.) But - that also means they didn't have an entrenched oil industry heavily influencing their politics, not in the "drill baby drill" way we have here.

    America has never experienced the wide scale devastation Europe (and Japan) has been through, so we've never really faced up to rebuilding our infrastructure wholesale. The closest thing would be the building of the Eisenhower Interstate System.

    But we better start thinking about it big time, because climate change is going to affect the whole country, if not all of it in the same ways. Hurricanes on the Gulf Coast and now the Northeast; tornado outbreaks; drought; wildfires; floods - we have a real opportunity/need to get pro-active on this because it's going to happen whether we plan for it or not.

    I keep linking to Greensburg, KS as an example of the kind of thinking we need.

    "No special skill, no standard attitude, no technology, and no organization - no matter how valuable - can safely replace thought itself."

    by xaxnar on Mon Nov 12, 2012 at 05:07:02 PM PST

  •  worthy of note: (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    A Siegel, xaxnar, Larsstephens

    The southernmost tip of Germany lies at a latitude a bit to the north of Fargo, ND.

    Germany currently supplies 26% of their electrical energy consumption with renewables.

    To replace the entire nameplate generating capacity of the US with solar would require an area equal to 2 Nellis Air force bases (not that we would want to put it all in one place).

  •  Must Read at Washington Monthly (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Larsstephens, A Siegel

    The boom in natural gas production, thanks to fracking, means the U.S. is poised to have abundant natural gas supplies for years to come - BUT risks major missteps that could squander the opportunity. Washington Monthly has an article laying out potential pit falls and problems that need to be addressed if we are to have an optimum outcome.

    The piece starts with a discussion of the best ways to put natural gas to use - generating electrical power, stabilizing supply for the long term instead of the historic boom and bust cycle, discouraging developments that divert gas away from the most effective uses to chase ephemeral markets, and so on. The major part of the article however deals with the Achilles heel of generating electricity in this country: our dangerously decrepit and obsolete power grid.

    This brings us to the second, and much more menacing, precondition for capturing the full potential benefits of the current natural gas supply boom: we must fix our decrepit, vulnerable, and long-neglected electrical grid. Today, the average substation transformer in the U.S. is forty-two years old—two years older than its expected life span. A recent Department of Energy report warned that 70 percent of the largest high-voltage power transformers—each weighing up to 800,000 pounds—are more than twenty-five years old, and subject to an increased risk of failure. As of now, replacing one of these enormous transformers, should it be attacked, or simply break down, can take twenty months or longer. Even without any major attacks or breakages, most of the equipment on the grid is already so antiquated that roughly 500,000 Americans lose electricity for at least two hours every single day.
    The rest of the article lays out in detail all the ways the grid is a disaster waiting to happen. The financialization of the energy industry thanks to the fanatic deregulators and speculators has resulted in optimization for maximum shareholder return at the expense of maintenance and investment in upgrading the infrastructure. A smarter grid would have been able to route around and better protect itself from the damage caused by Hurricane Sandy for example. It's going to take determined action at the Federal level to do something about this.

    The article presumes we will use this newly abundant supply of natural gas most effectively by using it to generate electricity - but the importance of the  kind of changes needed to the grid apply in any case. They are certainly needed to better accommodate wind and solar certainly.

    Lot of food for thought in the article - definitely worth a look.

    "No special skill, no standard attitude, no technology, and no organization - no matter how valuable - can safely replace thought itself."

    by xaxnar on Mon Nov 12, 2012 at 06:15:06 PM PST

  •  So glad you diaried this (0+ / 0-)

    Germany's story needs to be told.

    Republished to Climate Hawks and DK Greenroots.

    “Better the occasional faults of a government that lives in a spirit of charity than the consistent omissions of a government frozen in the ice of its own indifference.” -- FDR, 1936

    by SolarMom on Tue Nov 13, 2012 at 05:22:54 PM PST

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