Political Promotion of Renewable Energy in the United States and Germany http://www.e- ir.info/2012/11/09/political- promotion- of- renewable- energy- in- the- united- states- and- germany/ March 9, 2013
By Jakob Hauter on November 9, 2012
The Polit ical Promot ion of Renewable Energy in t he Unit ed St at es and Germany: Mot ives and Consequences At a time when popular uprisings against oppressive regimes in North Africa let oil prices soar and stir a debate in developed nations about the ethics of resource trade with brutal dictators, and while melting reactor cores in Japan make the world hold its breath and rethink the possible risks and dangers of nuclear power, the question of where we will get our energy from in the future seems more pressing than ever before. Renewable energy sources provide a potentially attractive solution to this question. However, even until today, only a tiny fraction of the world’s energy supply is actually coming from these sources (IEA 2010). Is it possible to increase this small share by political means? What are the factors that could motivate governments to pursue policies promoting renewable energy sources? To what extent are those policies pursued in practice, and what results have they yielded so far? It is the purpose of this essay to investigate these questions. This will be done in four steps. First, a general rationale for the promotion of renewable energy sources will be developed as a conceptual basis. Second, policies promoting renewable energy sources across two national contexts will be outlined. Third, the outcomes of these policies will be compared and evaluated. Fourth, the findings of the case study analysis will be explained by differences in the composition of the general rationale in each national context. The United States and Germany have been chosen as case studies for this essay. Both countries are highly developed and belong to the most important economic and political actors in the world. Nevertheless, their records concerning renewable energy promotion policies diverge strongly, which can provide useful insights. This essay will argue that while a general rationale for the promotion of policies promoting renewable energy sources can be identified, different degrees of emphasis are placed on distinctive dimensions of this rationale in diverse national contexts, which leads to differing policy outcomes and disparities in the development of renewable energy technology. Why Government s Promot e Renewable Energy Any policy aimed at promoting a certain way of producing energy constitutes a political interference in the energy market and will inevitably cost the government pursuing it time, effort and money. Consequently, the first question that has to be asked is why any government should be willing to do this. Dieter Helm (2007) answers this question using the concept of what he calls the New Energy Paradigm. He argues that energy policy has witnessed a paradigm shift away from liberalization and privatization towards a higher degree of political regulation. Instead of market forces and prices, the modes of energy production and the quantities of particular energy sources came into the focus of political attention. Helm identifies two main factors that explain this paradigm shift. First, there are rising concerns over the security of energy supplies and, second, there is increased awareness about the environmental impact of certain energy sources. Renewables seem to offer an appealing solution to both of these problems. Renewable energy sources are theoretically able to provide vast amounts of energy irrespective of fossil fuel reserves and will not be depleted as long as the sun keeps shining on our planet. In most regions of the world, at least one renewable energy source is abundantly available. At the same time, the environmental impact of technologies using renewable energy sources is, in most cases, extremely small compared to other methods of energy...
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