Germany’s energy transition (or “Energiewende”) is the most ambitious current effort to put a large industrial economy onto a sustainable energy path, recognizing the 21st century reality of a climate-constrained world. If the world’s fourth largest economy demonstrates that this shift is possible without undermining economic growth, it could be a major factor in enabling a global energy transition. And with climate change intensifying – 2012 was the 36th straight year of above-average global temperature, and 2011 and 2012 each produced more extreme weather events costing over one billion dollars each than any other year in recorded history – reducing greenhouse gas emissions is imperative for any future energy system. Thus, the Energiewende is critical to the ongoing fight against global warming.
At the same time, more and more countries are experiencing the rising cost of powering conventional energy systems. The unconventional oil and gas boom in the United States might create an illusion of continued availability of cheap fossil fuels. But the fundamental trends remain: increasingly, countries do not have enough domestic fossil fuel or uranium supplies. Global demand for these resources continues to grow, while exploiting such finite reserves becomes more complicated, risky, and expensive. For many countries, depending so heavily on volatile international fuel markets presents a major economic and security risk.
Sustainability Is the Only Sensible Strategy
In this climate- and resource-constrained world, improving energy efficiency and developing renewable energy is the only sensible strategy. Germany is leading the way, but it is not the only country recognizing the need for this transition. At least 118 countries have renewable energy targets; 65 countries now follow the model of Germany’s Renewable Energy Act and offer predictable feed-in-tariffs to renewable energy producers. About half of the estimated 208 GW of new electric capacity added globally in 2011 came from renewable sources. Global investment in renewable energy excluding large hydropower was 237 billion dollars in 2011, more than global net investment in new fossil-fuel power plants.