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Should America Follow Europe's Lead on Energy?

This post originally appeared on the National Journal Energy & Environment Experts Blog.

As the United States sorts out its next moves on energy policies to enhance long-term security and strengthen its economy, policymakers will need to weigh both benefits and risks of various energy sources. Looking at what other countries are doing is a good place to start. European countries’ recent moves have one thing in common: each is moving to cleaner energy sources and greater energy efficiency. Germany, like the United States, has a heavy manufacturing base. Yet its national leaders have chosen a long-term strategy to build an energy system based on renewable energy. Their recent decision to phase-out nuclear power is more than a political reaction to the Fukushima nuclear disaster; it is part of an ambitious plan to transition to renewable energy.

Germany’s decision to phase out what it sees as a less-desirable technology, while continuing to set strong emissions targets to tackle climate change, provides important lessons for other countries. Due its recent successes in renewable energy and energy efficiency, Germany is in a strong position to go even further. In the last five years, investments in its clean energy sector grew by more than 75 percent, creating a dynamic industry that supports 367,000 jobs. In 2009, Germany ranked third in the world in installed renewable energy capacity and it has invested more in future capacity than any other country.

What the German and French decisions share is the use of national policies to direct their country's energy future. What happens in the energy sector has always been heavily influenced by rules, regulations, and incentives. With the right policy framework, the private sector responds and makes ambitious energy goals attainable. Clear, long-term policies create certainty in the marketplace encouraging investment and job creation.

It’s clear that countries— from Germany and France to China and India— are making conscious moves to change the way they use and produce energy. These trends point to a significant jump in renewable energy sources that can drive innovation and enhance energy security. They also position these countries as likely winners in global energy markets. While the details will look different, that's a global trend the United States shouldn't miss.

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