On Sunday, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton unveiled the first major commitments of her climate change policy. Her plan centers on dramatically increasing renewable energy sources in the United States, with the goal of having 33% of the country's power generation come from renewable sources by 2027. While commentators debate how realistic her goals are and whether they're adequate for meeting the challenge of climate change, they might do well to look across the Atlantic for some inspiration.
Last week, Germany hit an extraordinary milestone: On July 25th, 78% of the country's electricity was generated by renewable energy sources.
According to an analysis by Craig Morris, an expert on German energy, the record was made possible by a confluence of chance weather events. Severe storms in northern Europe contributed to strong winds throughout the country and especially in the north — where most of its wind turbines are located. It was simultaneously sunny in the south, where most of the country's solar panels are situated. The combination of the two boosted the share of the Germany's total renewable-generated electric power generated to a new high, surpassing the previous record of of 74% set in 2014.
Germany's performance on renewable energy in recent years has been remarkable. The country is a manufacturing powerhouse with a population of 80 million and the largest economy in the world that relies as much as it does on renewables. According to Bloomberg, the nation aggressively invested about 120 billion euros into low-pollution energy in the past decade, and the share of electricity generated by renewable sources has increased to about 28% — more than any other source. Including energy used for transportation and heating, the share of energy that comes from renewables in Germany is three times higher than in the U.S.
According to ThinkProgress, the country wants to double the share of renewable energy in its energy production by 2035 — while eliminating its reliance on nuclear energy.
Reform in the U.S.: Clinton's plan seeks to increase solar capacity by 700% by the end of her first term — the equivalent of solar panels on 25 million homes. She's pledging to double the share of total power generation that comes from renewable sources. Combined with nuclear energy, Clinton's target meets one key standard of the influential climate change activist group ClimateGen: that half of the nation's electricity is generated from renewable or zero-carbon sources by 2030.
But Clinton still has plenty of work to do in order to convince climate activists that she can deliver meaningful reforms to manage the crisis of global warming. Earlier in the week, she refused to take a stance on the proposed Keystone pipeline, an issue that environmentalists consider a litmus test for determining how serious candidates are about ending the U.S.'s addiction to fossil fuels.
Clinton's fellow candidate former Maryland governor Martin O'Malley has called for the U.S. to commit to 100% clean energy by 2050, but so far, climate change has not received a great deal of attention in the 2016 race. That may change in the coming months. But at the moment, the economy and social issues like criminal justice reform are dominating the policy conversation.
Germany's commitment to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by at least 80% by 2050 doesn't necessarily sound that much more ambitious than the rhetoric of its peer nations. But its impressive record on renewable energy so far signals a unusual commitment to fulfilling its promises.