Postcard from the Energiewende: Setting Sail on the Sun Ship

The Sun Ship. The world's first commercial PlusEnergy building, Freiburg, Germany. (© 2012 Osha Gray Davidson)


For three weeks in late April and early May, I traveled throughout Germany* researching that country’s energiewende, literally, “energy change” — a transformation from a fossil-fuel economy to a renewable-energy economy (that produces only small amounts of green house gases). Germany has by no means completed the transition. But it is on the way.

Most remarkably, especially coming from the United States where politics has become polarized and toxic, Germany’s ambitious goal is supported by all major political parties. The only debate is over how to get there and how fast to go.

In the coming weeks, I’ll be publishing a series of articles about the Energiewende tour (as I like to think of it) at InsideClimate News. Later the articles will be expanded into a multi-media eBook, with photos, videos, slideshows with narration and recorded interviews with some of the major actors in Germany’s attempt to build an economy that is both environmentally and economically sound.


* The trip was funded, in part, by the Heinrich Böll Foundation, where I was a 2012 Climate Media Fellow.

Obama Radio Address: ‘GOP Pledge Would Shut Down Clean Energy Jobs’

October 2, 2010

Radio Address, transcript:

Over the past twenty months, we’ve been fighting not just to create more jobs today, but to rebuild our economy on a stronger foundation. Our future as a nation depends on making sure that the jobs and industries of the 21st century take root here in America. And there is perhaps no industry with more potential to create jobs now – and growth in the coming years – than clean energy.

For decades, we’ve talked about the importance of ending our dependence on foreign oil and pursuing new kinds of energy, like wind and solar power. But for just as long, progress had been prevented at every turn by the special interests and their allies in Washington.

So, year after year, our dependence on foreign oil grew. Families have been held hostage to spikes in gas prices. Good manufacturing jobs have gone overseas. And we’ve seen companies produce new energy technologies and high-skilled jobs not in America, but in countries like China, India and Germany.

…There is no industry with more potential to create jobs now – and growth in the coming years – than clean energy.

It was essential – for our economy, our security, and our planet – that we finally tackle this challenge. That is why, since we took office, my administration has made an historic commitment to promote clean energy technology. This will mean hundreds of thousands of new American jobs by 2012. Jobs for contractors to install energy-saving windows and insulation. Jobs for factory workers to build high-tech vehicle batteries, electric cars, and hybrid trucks. Jobs for engineers and construction crews to create wind farms and solar plants that are going to double the renewable energy we can generate in this country. These are jobs building the future.

BrightSource solar plant (artist's conception)

For example, I want share with you one new development, made possible by the clean energy incentives we have launched. This month, in the Mojave Desert, a company called BrightSource plans to break ground on a revolutionary new type of solar power plant. It’s going to put about a thousand people to work building a state-of-the-art facility. And when it’s complete, it will turn sunlight into the energy that will power up to 140,000 homes – the largest such plant in the world. Not in China. Not in India. But in California.

With projects like this one, and others across this country, we are staking our claim to continued leadership in the new global economy. And we’re putting Americans to work producing clean, home-grown American energy that will help lower our reliance on foreign oil and protect our planet for future generations.

Now there are some in Washington who want to shut them down. In fact, in the Pledge they recently released, the Republican leadership is promising to scrap all the incentives for clean energy projects, including those currently underway – even with all the jobs and potential that they hold.

This doesn’t make sense for our economy. It doesn’t make sense for Americans who are looking for jobs. And it doesn’t make sense for our future. To go backwards and scrap these plans means handing the competitive edge to China and other nations. It means that we’ll grow even more dependent on foreign oil. And, at a time of economic hardship, it means forgoing jobs we desperately need. In fact, shutting down just this one project would cost about a thousand jobs.

That’s what’s at stake in this debate. We can go back to the failed energy policies that profited the oil companies but weakened our country. We can go back to the days when promising industries got set up overseas. Or we can go after new jobs in growing industries. And we can spur innovation and help make our economy more competitive. We know the choice that’s right for America. We need to do what we’ve always done – put our ingenuity and can do spirit to work to fight for a brighter future.


Fact Sheet on the President’s Clean Energy Radio Address

US Senate May Consider Federal Renewable Energy Standard

Is this RES for real?

It’s baaack. Maybe.

Tomorrow at 2:30 PM EDT, a federal Renewable Energy Standard (RES) — which has been pronounced dead and then revived many times in the past year — will get another jolt of Senate CPR, when a bipartisan group of Senators unveils a new attempt at establishing a minimum amount of electricity that utilities must produce from renewable sources such as wind and solar power.

The big difference this time is that the RES will stand alone — not as part of a comprehensive (and controversial) climate bill. Whether that helps the bill or hurts its chances for passage is anyone’s guess. Uncertainty about the bill’s fate is further compounded by election season politics.

Senators Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) and Sam Brownback (R-KS) will introduce the new RES, with the support of colleagues Byron Dorgan (D-ND), Susan Collins (R-ME) and Tom Udall (D-NM).

In a statement released today by the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, which Bingaman chairs, the senior senator from New Mexico declared that the Senate “need[s] to get on with figuring out what we can pass and move forward.” (Bingaman’s earlier attempt at crafting a RES was criticized for being too weak.)

In the same statement, Bingaman’s GOP counterpart on the committee, Sam Brownback, argued that a RES “will encourage home-grown supplies like wind in Kansas and help diversify our nation’s energy sources.”

Perhaps they can actually make it happen this time. Then again, we’re talking about the United States Senate, which, if it were a country, would be declared a failed state. And the emailed press release doesn’t exactly instill confidence in the cooperative process. Democrat Binagman apparently believes RES is an acronym for “Renewable Electricity Standard,” whereas for Republican Brownback, it stands for “Renewable Energy Standard.”

It’s a small matter, no doubt. But the group needs to be on the same page — and using the same terminology — if the RES is to become more than a political CPR practice dummy.