Germany’s Green Revolution

How has Germany become the poster-child for a 'green' economy?
Image Credit: Megan Sutherland

In 2001, the U.S. refused to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, citing fears of serious economic repercussions. Germany, by far the biggest polluter in Europe at the time, viewed the push for greener policies quite differently. With expensive imports providing most of their energy needs and the desire to be a leader in green technology, pursuing sustainable sources of energy made economic sense. Since then, Germany has emerged as Europe’s ‘green’ poster-child. Today’s post looks at Germany’s ‘green’ revolution and the governmental strategies that have helped put them on top.

Germany’s efforts have primarily focused on two interlinked areas: renewable energy sources and energy conservation. In terms of renewable energy, perhaps the most important mechanism has been the feed-in tariff. A feed-in tariff is a strategy that helps bolster renewable energy, usually by offering long-term contracts to renewable energy companies. However, individual citizens, community groups, small business owners, and farmers, for example, can also receive payment for any energy they produce with green technologies (energy not used by the business, farm, etc is fed into a grid, which others can then use and the producer paid for). With this system, the government eliminates much of the risk associated with the development of new technologies and encourages investors by making renewable sources more attractive. In the first half of 2011, the German Association of Energy and Water Industries reported that almost 21% of Germany’s electricity was generated from renewable sources.1

In terms of energy conservation, the national government has been aggressive with its legislative directives. The Energy Conservation Act of 2009, for example, set new standards for energy efficiency, including regulations on: insulation, use of renewable energy sources in new buildings, and upgrade requirements for already constructed units. The Heat Costs Act of 2009 was also pivotal, increasing the percentage of heating cost based on use.2 Furthermore, the government has begun to heavily tax fuel, which has significantly discouraged use. From a climate perspective, this has seen very positive results: greenhouse gas emissions dropped 18% between 1990 and 2005. The U.S., by contrast, actually increased greenhouse gas emissions by 16% during that same time period.3

The German government has also chosen to lead by example. The parliament buildings in Berlin, for instance, are designed to make the most efficient use of natural light, while each building’s electricity and heat is created by biofuel generators (see more on biofuels here). Local governments, however, have also been paramount to Germany’s success. Local governments have been given relative leeway in how they choose to reach the government’s targets, and their leadership has been crucial. Projects have included: energy conservation in local schools, investment in combined heat and power (CHP) services for municipal buildings, and advisement to private residences and businesses on energy-saving practices. Many of these projects have been able to “demonstrate the financial rewards of emissions reductions,” thereby earning political support for their efforts.4

Admittedly, every country inhabits a unique situation; one country’s solution will not be equally applicable to another. That aside, Germany’s foray into renewable resources and its rapid reduction of pollutants (all done while creating jobs), has many researchers excited. Many feel the success, as well as the lessons contained within, can help other nations create even better sustainability models. Some believe the U.S. might even be able to “’leapfrog’” past Europe.5 They are hopeful the government will not only learn from Germany’s triumphs and struggles, but could proactively and deliberately plan forward-thinking technologies and strategies.

1 “Green Energy Use Jumps in Germany” Spiegal Online August 2011. 3 April 2012 <,1518,783314,00.html>

3 Blue, Laura “Lessons From Germany” Time Magazine April 2008. 1 April 2012 < >

4Bulkeley, Harriet and Kristine Kern,‘Local Government and the Governing of Climate Change in Germany and the UK’ Urban Studies 43(12): 2237-2259 (2006) 2245

5 Power, Anne and Zulauf, Monika (2011)  Cutting carbon costs: learning from Germany’s energy saving program. Brookings Institution, Washington DC.


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One response to “Germany’s Green Revolution”

  1. Robert says :

    A German colleague of mine tells me that at a rail crossing, Germans will turn their engines off to reduce emissions. And those who don’t should not be surprised to get a knock on their window asking them to comply.

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