On Sunday, May 18, Germany established a new renewable energy record. Between noon and 1:00 p.m. on that date, 74% of the country’s electric power needs were met by “green” resources – solar, wind, biomass or hydro. That’s an astonishing 43.5 gigawatts!
Yes, I hear the naysayers carping in the background about how alternative energy only works when the sun shines or the wind blows or water flows. But let’s look on the positive side, shall we? The latest figures show the US derives about 11% of its electric energy from renewable sources. So while we are pinning our hopes for the future on torturing more gas from the ground via fracking or oil from tar sands, other countries are looking at more long term solutions. When it comes to uncoupling our energy needs from diminishing resources that create substantial environmental damage, America is lagging far behind its Continental neighbors.
Generating electricity from renewable sources is nothing new to Germans. The village of Wildpoldsried in Bavaria started a “green” energy program in 1997. The plan was to attract new industry and jobs to the area without adding any debt to the village’s finances. The project has been a spectacular success. Today, the village creates more than three times more electricity than it consumes. Selling all that excess power back to the local grid nets the town over $5 million a year in revenue. Germany is making plans to close all of its nuclear generating facilities and is constructing more than 2800 miles of transmission lines to carry the power generated from renewable sources.
It’s true that renewable energy must overcome challenges. Primarily, there is a need to create ways of storing excess electricity. Apple has filed a patent request for just such a system and Google is also hard at work on similar ideas. One of the easiest ways to convert electricity into potential energy is to use excess power to pump water uphill to a holding area, whether a large tank or a small lake. When the need arises, simply let the stored water flow downhill again, powering hydroelectric turbines in the process.
Are there any American communities out there who would like to attract new manufacturers and make a substantial profit from generating more electricity than it needs? Perhaps it is time for America to stop focusing on what entrenched interests say won’t work (Clean coal, anyone?) and start focusing instead on what will work as proven by nations like Germany and villages like Wildpoldsreid?