Windmills in rural Germany. © elxeneize \ Fotolia.com Windmills in rural Germany. © elxeneize \ Fotolia.com

The floor of the North Sea is about to be disturbed by a 2 billion Euro high-voltage undersea cable, stretching from Germany to Norway. Like old friends splitting a bar tab, the two countries are sharing the cost of the cable which will carry electricity from renewable energy back and forth between them as needed.

The project is expected to be completed by 2018 and demonstrates a high level of confidence on both sides – in each other as well as in the future of renewable energy.

It’s probably not too much of a stretch to say that it’s a future into which Germany is already locked.

It may seem foreign to those of us used to the partisan divide in North American political discourse, but German political debate has already moved on from the question of whether or not to support renewable. With renewables already accounting for 23 per cent of domestic energy production, criticism of Chancellor Angela Merkel has focused on the means, not the ends, of the country’s steps toward its ambitious target: 80 per cent renewables by 2050.

“The government is endangering the energy revolution and unnecessarily burdening consumers [through higher electricity bills]," says opposition Social Democrat Ulrich Kelber, who is also in favour of the renewable energy targets.

It’s a bit of a chicken and egg question: which came first, the political consensus or the energy revolution?

According to Osha Gray Davidson, author of Clean Break: The Story of Germany’s Energy Transformation and What Americans Can Learn From It, the answer is a bit of both.

“This was really a bottom-up movement that forced politicians to get behind it, politicians from across the spectrum. So the center-right governing party now, Angel Merkel’s party, they are for the Energiewende [the energy turn]. [...]I think it’s a matter of political will and also empowerment. A lot of Americans feel there is nothing they can do because of all these big companies — well, I don’t have much patience for that.”

The good news is that the German experience suggests that our own energy transformation won’t always be this hard. They pushed their leaders until the leaders led. Back in Canada, as in the U.S., we may still be struggling to get the ball rolling, but once it starts, the terms of the debate will shift. Germany’s supreme confidence in a renewable future is hard-won through years of grassroots advocacy work, which firmly entrenched alternative energy in the national discourse.

While we dream of a future where our politicians have no choice but to support green energy there’s no harm in taking a glance across the ocean at a country which began much like Canada – affluent with lots of space and an economy fueled by the consumption of its abundant natural resources. Lamentations about the wasted potential of the Alberta tar sands ring more hollow when we consider the fossil fuel resources Germany has refused to exploit on its own soil.

It may be a few years before Canada has the renewable energy capacity to require an undersea cable. There’s still a long way to go, but as we slip into the new year, let’s take a little comfort in the knowledge that there are green fields at the end of the tunnel.

The Renewable Energy blog showcases weekly posts by Stu Campana on current renewable energy issues. With fascinating projects underway across the country – from community solar power in Milton, Ontario to wind farms in Pictou County, Nova Scotia – Stu connects these stories through attention to the broader scientific perspective, international political climate, and social variables they involve.

Stu is an international environmental consultant, currently working with Fern Ridge Landscaping and Eco-Consulting in Milton, Ontario

Stu Campana is an international environmental consultant, with expertise in water, energy and waste management. He is the Water Team Leader with Ecology Ottawa, has a master’s in Environment and Resource Management and writes the A\J Renewable Energy blog. Follow him on Twitter: @StuCampana.

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