July 22, 2014 6:00 am

Blog: Going green in Germany

Wind turbines stand behind a solar power park on October 30, 2013 near Werder, Germany.

Sean Gallup / Getty Images

When it comes to combating climate change, Germany is aiming high.

It plans to cut greenhouse gas emissions to at least 40 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020 – 80 per cent by 2050.

It wants renewable energy to provide at least 35 per cent of gross electricity consumption by 2020 – all while phasing out nuclear power.

These are big goals. And while there have definitely been serious setbacks, one of the world’s largest industrial economies is steadily working toward a greener future.

Renewable energy – largely solar, wind and biomass – has formed an increasing portion of Germany’s electricity consumption over the past few years. This increase is fuelled in part by government subsidies to incentivize new wind turbines and solar plants, among other sources.

This is one area where Canada is actually doing better, in a way. Canada generates most of its electricity from hydro power, which is a renewable resource. Germany doesn’t have many suitable locations for hydro generation and consequently produces very little.

Canadian electricity generation »

Canadian electricity generation

But when it comes to greenhouse gases, the progress in Germany is less clear. While emissions have dropped dramatically overall since 1990, over the past couple of years they’ve gone up again: As energy companies phase out nuclear they’ve turned to lignite coal, one of the dirtiest energy sources around.


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Of course, at the same time, Canada continues to emit more greenhouse gases. If current trends continue, the lines could eventually meet.

But is this the whole story? Not even close. That’s why I’ll be spending August and September in Germany, investigating the energy transformation. I’ll be looking at what’s working, what isn’t, how it’s changing German life, and what we in Canada can learn from the German experience.

Check GlobalNews.ca for regular dispatches from Germany.

Leslie Young is going to Germany as a 2014 Arthur F. Burns fellow, a program of the International Center for Journalists.

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