For instance, states are increasingly using little-known clean energy funds, or CEFs to invest in research hubs, cleantech startups and green job training programs. Some are laying the groundwork for green banks, in which state agencies become lending institutions for loans and bonds to renewable energy and green building developers.
A handful of cities and counties are helping homeowners do energy-efficiency retrofits and install solar panels using the Property Assessed Clean Energy, or PACE, model. The financing program lets people repay their debt over one or two decades through an assessment on their property tax bills.
About a dozen U.S. cities, regions or states have adopted European-style feed-in tariffs in recent years, which give solar panel owners a fixed price for every kilowatt-hour of clean electricity they feed back into the grid over 20 years. This year, advocates dropped the loaded "tariff" moniker for PR purposes, calling them Clean Local Energy Accessible Now (CLEAN) policies instead.
In Germany, feed-in tariffs were critical in making its clean energy economy the world's biggest by far—renewables account for 25 percent of energy production.
An InsideClimate News Kindle ebook on Germany's renewable power transformation, published last month, revealed an even bigger driver: Germany passed a federal law in 2000 that decentralized electricity production, which gave small renewable power producers incentives to compete with big utilities.
The United States is still far from that, but as the year closes, the first rumblings of efforts to break the monopoly of utilities and fossil fuels are being heard.