Pulitzer winning climate news.
facebook twitter subscribe
view counter
Multimedia

Clean Break: Germany's Switch to Renewables

The German Parliament building in Berlin was rebuilt by British architect Sir Norman Forster after reunification as a symbol and an example of the Energiewende, the name for the country's renewable energy transformation. The building is fully powered by renewable energy.

All photos by Osha Gray Davidson unless otherwise indicated.

This slideshow is part of an ebook, "Clean Break: The Story of Germany's Energy Transformation and What Americans Can Learn From It" that is now available as a Kindle Single on Amazon.

Click here to read chapter one of the six-part series.

Inside the Parliament building: The cone-shaped "light sculpture" is made of 360 mirrors, extending from the apex of the cupola down into the heart of the chamber 75 feet below. A bank of solar panels on the roof powers a swiveling metal shade that reduces glare by tracking the sun's path and filtering its harshest rays.

The term Energiewende was coined in 1980 and became official German policy in the year 2000.

A common sight in Germany: wind turbines in fields of rapeseed. Oil from the plant is made into biodiesel fuel to power cars, produce electricity and heat buildings.

Some 25,000 wind turbines produce a total of up to 35 gigawatts of electricity, roughly the same amount of power as generated by 13 nuclear power plants.

Despite green initiatives, just 15 percent of the electricity powering the U.S. Capitol Building is purchased through wind power credits, and the Capitol still relies on fossil fuel for heat.

The Capitol Power Plant (left) was built in 1910 and provides heat and cooling to the Capitol. It runs on coal and natural gas.

Building with integrated solar panels, Freiburg, Germany.

Wind turbines, 31-stories high, southern Germany.

Three-wheeled electric car outside the headquarters of EWS, Germany's first green power cooperative utility. Schönau.

St. Peter's Abbey, an 18th century church heated by Bürger Energie St. Peter, a renewable energy cooperative.

Markus Bohnert, co-director of Bürger Energie St. Peter, in front of the hot water tanks that heat 200 buildings in the village. The growing cooperative movement provides electricity to 83,000 households throughout Germany.

The Best Western Premier Victoria in Freiburg, billed as the "most environmentally friendly" hotel in the world. Solar thermal panels heat water for guests. Any electricity not generated on-site is purchased from a green-energy cooperative. Lighting is by LEDs. Bathtubs are formed to the contours of the human body and use less water than normal tubs. Freiburg.

Typical Black Forest church, St. Basil.

Small segment of a farming village showing how pervasive solar panels are throughout Germany, Bernau im Schwarzwald.

Britt Lerbs, member of a heating cooperative in northern Germany, in front of a large biogas digester for producing electricity. The "waste" heat travels through a pipeline built by the cooperative to heat their homes. Honigsee.

Britt Lerbs' house, with her husband and one daughter visible. They could afford to buy the house, she says, only because the heating bills are so low, thanks to community power. Honigsee.

Photo by Britt Lerbs

Ferries are just one mode of integrated public transportation, a movement that began in Hamburg in 1965. Ninety-nine percent of Hamburg residents live within 330 yards of public transportation.

Quality of life is part of the Energiewende. Ninety percent of Hamburg residents live within 330 yards of a park. Jenischpark, Hamburg.

Germans are 10 times more likely to travel by bicycle than are Americans, thanks to a bike-friendly infrastructure. Freiburg.

Freiburg (pop. 230,000) in southwestern Germany has more than 300 miles of bike paths.

Bicycle-friendly traffic light. Freiburg.

Self-service bicycle rental shop, Freiburg.

Solar-Fabrik, a solar panel manufacturer that in 1999 became the first CO2-neutral factory in Europe. Freiburg.

Electric trolley in Vauban, a car-free, energy-efficient zone in Freiburg. (Cars are only allowed for loading and unloading.)

Heliotrope House, the world's first net-neutral home. Heliotrope produces more energy than it consumes. The entire house rotates to follow the sun. Solar panels on the roof track the sun on two axes. Freiburg.

View of Freiburg from energy writer Craig Morris's office balcony.