The United States lags significantly behind other nations when it comes to renewable energy production. This is not new news to those who follow current energy policy, but if you’re not one of those people, it’s an issue to actively consider as the Rio+20 Earth Summit in Brazil kicks off.
Even though U.S. renewable electricity production over the past decade has actually increased by 300%, that figure is still far lower when compared to the European Union and Germany in particular, which remains far ahead of many nations, obtaining an impressive 30% of its electricity from solar power alone. The U.S., on the other hand, obtained only 2.7% of its electricity in 2011 from renewable sources including solar, wind and geothermal. It’s important to note that waste-to-energy power plants and biomass are often included in renewable energy portfolios, but opponents cite the burning of wood products as contradictory to decreasing GHG emissions.
Nevertheless, why does Germany have such a strong renewable energy base when compared to the U.S. and many other countries? One important reason are the feed-in tariffs the German government has traditionally used to help stimulate the growth of this industry. The U.S. does not subsidize renewable energy projects as frequently or as robustly and it shows, but tax rebates and other incentives do exist for residential solar panel installation depending upon the state.
Still, those rebates are often not enough to defray the upfront cost of panel installation, a burden that turns off many consumers. Residents also typically don’t know how to access and therefore take advantage of these rebates and others simply don’t care — after all, fossil fuel remains the “cheapest” energy source, although the effects on our planet are exceedingly costly.
Given the dire state of our climate, renewable energy should not be a luxury — it should be the energy of right now. Countries like Germany, Italy, Indonesia and the UK are listed among the top 5 out of the G20 participants for renewable energy production, so clearly it’s possible to move beyond fossil fuels and power a country with a clean energy portfolio; you just need the support and industry backing.
The United States is a much larger country with a strong fossil fuel lobby and more land mass and people to take into account, yet that should not hold policy makers back from taking full advantage of the renewable energy that exists. As Jake Schmidt, NRDC’s International Climate Policy Director put it, delaying renewable energy production is “…not just a threat to the thousands of new jobs being created by the renewable energy industry, but also a threat to our health, our environment and our planet.”
Photo Credit: John Womack (littlejohn)