By Staff Writer Brendan Pringle.
As the United States struggles with mainstreaming green energy solutions, it’s helpful to look at green nations around the globe that have utilized sustainable resources to their economic and environmental advantage. A quick look at Germany, Sweden, and Iceland reveal that amidst the financial challenges of committing to sustainable alternatives, there are always solutions for those that are willing to take this leap.
Germany intends to become the first world power to use 100% renewable energy by 2050. The country has a diversified portfolio of wind, solar, geothermal, hydropower, and biomass sources and is on its way to achieving this ambitious goal.
Biomass technology has had the most rapid growth out of all these sources due to considerable advancements in technology. A biogas electricity plant in Dresden, for example, solely uses compost and waste for energy conversion, and operates at 85% efficiency.
Germany is also a world leader in solar power largely because of recent government support, and in 2006, maintained over 90% of Europe’s entire photovoltaic capacity. Likewise, it has become the second-largest wind-power producer in the world, trailing only the United States.
As expected, cost has been the only major impediment to green energy transformation for the nation. However, the German government recognizes the financial and environmental value of this costly investment, and has been extremely supportive. Although environmentalists and lawmakers have been at the forefront of this movement, Germany has also had the assistance of corporations that have dedicated their resources to research and development.
In addition, the country has made heavy usage of the “feed-in tariff,” which first appeared in 2000. This tariff “requires utilities to buy electricity from renewable sources at premium rates,” which allows small businesses to sell green energy at a profit. This tariff defers the cost of green investment from the government and stimulates the market by increasing economic opportunity for the private sector. It has increased local production and allowed Germans to have control over their own green destiny.
The Swedish government has committed itself to ending its dependence on oil, and expects to achieve this goal by 2020.
Although nuclear power plays a large role in Sweden’s energy production, about half of electricity comes from hydropower. Amidst increasing industrialization, the use of oil energy has dropped from “more than 70% of the total energy supply in 1970 to around 30% today.”
The Swedish Government has also given a large push to biofuels, which will not only provide a steady energy supply, but also promote job creation. As a direct result of government subsidies, Sweden now boasts annual revenue of £400 million from biofuel production.
Unsurprisingly, business and political leaders have faith that alternative energy technology will start another export boom. Companies like Volvo have invested millions into the green industry in hopes of leading this rapidly growing movement.
Beyond these nation-wide green developments, Sweden is perhaps best known for its green “poster boy” city—Malmö. As international leaders began planning a bridge spanning from Malmö to Copenhagen, local officials decided to capitalize on the development, and transform the small city into “a showcase for sustainable living.” Malmö took advantage of solar subsidies from the Swedish government from 2005-2008 which covered “70% of the total cost for photovoltaic plants on public buildings” (Engineering & Tech). Malmö has installed solar cells and collectors on everything from homes to swimming pools. A single 2MW wind turbine in Malmö, however, supplies a majority of Malmö’s electricity.
Skepticism and cost have been the only serious obstacles for this country in its conquest against oil dependence. To counter this potential resistance, several local professionals and community members have been integral in educating the public and carefully planning the stages of this transformation.
Renewable energy is more than just a lot of hot air to the residents of Iceland, where hydropower and geothermal plants generate all of country’s the electricity, heat, and hot water.
Iceland’s capital, Reykjavik, which contains half of the Iceland’s population, started tapping geothermal energy sources in the ‘60s and ‘70s to create electricity by driving turbines. Although this sounds complicated, harnessing this energy is as simple as “sticking a drill in the ground near one of the country’s 600 hot spring areas, and using the steam that is released to turn the turbines.” At the same time, Reykjavik’s glaciers produce massive amounts of water that can be harnessed to generate electricity.
As for vehicles, hydrogen power has just started to take root in this small, but determined nation. While this sounds promising, it probably will not become mainstream for another 10-15 years. Fossil fuels are only used in Iceland for cars and the fishing fleet, but fishing still provides approximately 70% of its income.
Although Iceland faces the challenge of its remote location, the country simply capitalizes on its most abundant resources. Since it’s impossible to physically export this type of energy from such an distant and isolated area, Icelanders are exporting their renewable energy technology through geothermal-powered tourist attractions and by using hydroelectric power as an incentive for foreign companies to industrialize in Iceland.
“I Don’t Like Discussions”
When it comes to making investments in renewable energy, one perhaps couldn’t put it more eloquently than the King of Sweden. As King Carl XVI Gustaf argues, “We have to think in the long term, not short term as we have before, but still make this happen quickly . . . and not just discuss it. I don’t like discussions.”
Through government partnership, forward thinking, and a little persistence, the nations of Sweden, Germany, and Iceland have made considerable progress in their attempts to ease off of their oil dependence.
With the same foresight and will power, Americans can similarly reap the advantages of renewable energy.