23 December 2012

Europe's Energy Transformation, and Why We're Being Left in the Dust

Americans' greatest challenge in energy generation is appreciating what is possible because too many of us don't know what is already happening in other parts of the world - for example, the powerful story of Europe's energy transformation.

When residents of the small city of Freiburg, Germany, go to school or work in the morning, they pass dozens of solar installations. There are solar panels on homes, on churches, on the facade of the main train station, on the soccer stadium, throughout a "solar housing development" and a "solar business park" and on the roofs of schools. All told, Freiburg's solar photovoltaic (PV) installations produce enough electricity to meet the needs of tens of thousands of homes.

Additionally, five large wind turbines are situated on hilltops within the city's boundaries and contribute to the town's energy supply. Small hydroelectric plants sit on the river, as well as combined heat and power plants and biomass plants that burn biogas and rapeseed oil, along with other facilities that burn wood chips and pellets.

Freiburg is known as a "Green City," but it is not atypical for the region or the nation. In May 2012, solar PV supplied 10 percent of Germany's electricity. During the first nine months of 2012, Germany produced enough electricity from renewable energy sources including wind, solar, biomass and hydroelectric plants to supply 26 percent of its demand.

This capacity has been growing rapidly from year to year, and renewables already represent roughly double the share of Germany's electricity production as compared to the United States.

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