A few weeks ago I took a train from Hamburg through Schleswig-Holstein and across a causeway to my mother’s childhood home in Westerland, Sylt – a stunning island on the German-Denmark border.
As we trundled through the agricultural flatlands I could not blink but to miss 100 wind turbines or a score of solar arrays. Barns in the region were now it seemed routinely clad in solar panels. Neat: farm subsidies linked to producing green energy.
It struck me with some shame that, while in Britain we regularly boast about our environmental intentions and make wild promises to be world leaders, in Germany, or that bit of it anyway, they just seem to get on with it.
That trip was before Germany decided to ditch nuclear power by 2022 in the wake of the Fukushima crisis in Japan following the earthquake.
It is a bold step. Until recently Germany had relied on nuclear for between 20% and a quarter of its energy.
Tough steps will need to be taken to reduce energy usage, boost renewables and the move will probably entail – perhaps ironically – importing nuclear energy or more gas from its neighbours, in the short term at least. Furthermore coal-fired production may rise.
But it occurred to me that, if renewables are to be “the future” for energy production, the incentive in Germany to deliver better renewable technologies will be that much greater than it otherwise would have been.
For a nation of top-flight engineers and manufacturers necessity can and often does prove the mother of invention. The Germans will find answers to the problem posed and these will, in all probability, have immense value.
Perhaps in the long run ditching nuclear will end up promoting Germany further up the league of those nations that benefit economically from green products and production and, in the long term, benefit rather than damage its economy.