The European Union has been far more united and proactive than the US federal government when it comes to policies ushering in post-petroleum and fossil fuel era by restructuring and retooling its energy and industrial infrastructure.
Germany is at the forefront of this wave of change. Energy consumption in Germany dropped 5.6% – the equivalent of 18.5 tons of oil – in 2007 as its economy grew 2.5%, according to BP’s latest statistical review of world energy, illustrating that economic growth is possible while clean technology is put in place and alternative, renewable energy resources are developed.
The BP report and latest figures were released just days after Germany’s cabinet passed legislation committing the country to reducing CO2 emissions 40% below 1990 levels by 2020.
In contrast, world energy consumption increased 2.4% in 2007, led by rapidly developing China and India while US energy consumption rose 1.7%.
Solar Fields in the former East Germany
Not known for its sunny climate, the country is the world’s leader in solar power. Its talent and expertise in engineering and manufacturing has made it a world leader in exporting solar power technology and products.
On June 22 the world’s largest solar field – spanning 110 hectares, the equivalent of 200 soccer fields – came on-line at the Waldpolenz Solar Park, built on the site of a former East German airbase east of Leipzig. Three of the world’s 50 largest solar fields are located in the Leipzig area.
Initially producing 24 megawatts of electricity from solar energy, Waldpolenz will displace some 25,000 tons of CO2 annually while feeding 40 megawatts worth of electrical power into Germany’s grid when it is fully operational in 2009, enough to supply about 10,000 homes, according to the “This Week in Germany” news service.
“At a time when the whole world is discussing climate change we are demonstrating the capabilities of renewable energies,” Matthias Willenbacher, co-head of the Juwi group in charge of planning, logistics and site management, told the German press. “Solar electricity is not only good for the environment, it also builds independence from expensive energy imports and creates new jobs,” he added.
At a cost of 130-million euros building the solar field is boosting the regional economy. The solar field’s 550,000 thin film solar panels are produced in Frankfurt Oder while its inverters and sub-structures are also produced in Germany.
VW Rolls Out PHEV Twin Drive Test Vehicle
But solar power is just one aspect of a much broader picture, one that includes the national government’s institution and iterative refining of a broad range of industrial, commercial and residential incentives, regulations and market-based mechanisms aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions by catalyzing the development of renewable energy resources, improving energy efficiency, reducing waste, and expanding recycling.
The message is being received by German industry. Volkswagen, Europe’s largest carmaker, on June 26, introduced the first of its first TwinDrive plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEV). Installed in a standard VW Golf compact, VW’s TwinDrive technology will be tested through 2012, VW’s chief executive Martin Winterkorn told reporters in Berlin.
VW initially plans to build and test 20 Twin Drive vehicles and power them using electricity generated solely from renewable sources. The PHEVs are expected to have an electric-only range of 50 kilometers (30 miles) before the internal combustion engine has to kick-in.
The German government is putting 15 million ($24 million) of a total 45 million euros ($72 million) into the research project, which is being carried out by eight partners.
Developing batteries that can store greater charges longer, weigh less and require less space are what auto manufacturers are after in their quest to develop PHEVs. Volkswagen recently announced that it was teaming up with Japan’s Sanyo to jointly develop lithium ion batteries capable of storing electrical charge for TwinDrive vehicles.
VW’s Twin Drive prototypes can recharge its batteries while parked via connections to the electricity grid, in contrast to HEVs like the Toyota Prius, which generates all its electricity on board using its gas engine.
Grid-connected motor transport would cost only half as much as using liquid fuels, according to German power company E.ON.