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Opening Speech for the Intersolar North America Conferences by Minister of State Gernot Erler

16.07.2009 - Speech

Mayor Newsom,

Mayor Salomon from the „Green City“ of Freiburg,

Acting Consul General Brockmann,

Mr Martin,

Professor Weber,

Representatives from Solar Energy related Companies,

Ladies and gentlemen,

I feel honoured to have the opportunity to speak to you at one of the leading trade fairs of the solar industry in the United States, Intersolar North America 2009.

First of all I want to congratulate the organizers of Intersolar on their great success in 2008 and thefact that even more exhibitors, visitors and conference participants are attending this year's Intersolar.

The growing interest in a solar trade show like Intersolar is first and foremost an indicator of the growing awareness of global energy issues. More and more people in the industrialized countries are realizing that we have to reconsider our entire energy system. We are all aware that we can no longer rely predominantly on fossil fuels.

In the following, let me point out why the German government thinks that we must change our energy supply radically. First, I will describe developments in German politics as wells as industry. Second, I will address grave threats to international security posed by climate change and scarcity of resources. Third, I want to speak about the recent policy shift in the US and options for US-German cooperation.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The systematic advancement of renewable energies in Germany started in the early Nineties. Then, the German parliament implemented a law that obliged utility companies to open up their power grids to allow the feed-in of electricity from small producers of renewable energy. The law also required them to provide a fixed minimum payment to these producers.

At the same time the German government started to support the fledgling solar industry within the framework of the so-called “1000-roofs-program”. Within the scope of this program, small-scale photovoltaic installations were promoted nationally for the first time.

In 1999 the program was expanded to the “100,000-roofs-program” and later became part of our feed-in legislation, the “Renewable Energies Act ” of 2000. The Act improved the framework conditions for the production of solar energy in particular. It has already started to transform the fabric of the German energy sector. Operators of solar and other renewable energy installations are guaranteed a preferential feed-in of their power and the payment of a technology-adjusted tariff. Thus they can run their business profitably. Due to the continuous degression of the feed-in tariff, the “Renewable Energies Act” helps bring down costs for renewable energies. It is helping renewable technologies become competitive as soon as possible. Under the EU renewables directive, Germany has pledged to source 18% of its overall energy consumption in 2020 from renewable energies. In the power sector, this will mean the share of renewables will be over 30%. For Germany, this is anything but easy, because natural conditions for renewables in Germany are less than ideal, especially for solar energy.

This legislation has allowed Germany to become one of the leading nations in the development and application of renewable energies. Renewables make up 15 percent of German electric power consumption, 7 percent of heat consumption and almost 6 percent of fuel consumption. All in all, the share of renewable energies in Germany's entire energy consumption amounts to 9.6%. The comparable figure for the US is 7.4% so far. But imagine what a country like the US, located in the sun belt of the world, could still achieve!

In Germany, the renewables sector has become a job-creating machine. In 2008 about 278,000 employees worked directly in the renewables industry. The ecological conversion of our economy leads to more and more so-called “green jobs”. Over the last few years, the number has risen to 1.8 million, so that now every 20stemployee in Germany owes his job to the green industry. It is assumed that the energy sector will defy the economic crisis and provide 500,000 new jobs by 2020.

Knowledge and technology “made in Germany” are very successful export products worldwide for the production of power, heat and fuel from renewable energies. The export volume of the German renewables sector amounted to approximately 9 billion Euro in 2007. When it comes to installed capacity, Germany is market leader in the global market for renewable energies. The German renewables industry plans to invest another 200 billion Euro in the improvement of installations for the use of renewables and their export by 2020.

In the political arena, Germany is working on strengthening its collaboration with other countries to pursue and implement an effective global energy policy. As a proof of leadership in this field we also initiated and established the International Agency for Renewable Energies (IRENA) - a truly global organization of now 136 members – and we were very happy to welcome the US to IRENA just two weeks ago!

Ladies and Gentlemen

one of the major challenges the world community will be confronted with is the impact of climate change on international security. Climate change and its consequences can influence the stability and security of many countries in a massive way. There is already a threat to small island states caused by rising sea levels. They also threaten, just as another example, the densely populated coastal areas of Bangladesh. Certain areas in South Asia will face shortages of water supply caused by the melting of glaciers in the Himalaya. There are dangers posed by hurricanes, floods and droughts all over the world. This can lead to the further destabilization of politically and economically fragile states. If unchecked, climate change might lead to massive migration and conflicts centered on drinking water and food resources.

We need to develop global and regional control mechanisms for the peaceful settlement of conflicts centered on water and resources. We have to make climate policy a motor of international collaboration and international security.

An effective climate policy has to be supported by an active foreign policy in particular. We at the Federal Foreign Office think that energy security and climate protection should be a central topic of our foreign policy.

I am convinced that renewable energies, especially solar energy, are key to any policy attempting to address the energy and climate challenges at the same time. In the long run, we can only ensure energy security if we build up an energy system based on renewable energies.

Renewable energies provide a two-fold benefit. First of all, they enhance the security of the energy supply by making countries like Germany, with hardly any fossil resources, less dependent on imports. Secondly, they ease the pressure on ever scarcer fossil resources and can help to defuse international conflicts at an early stage.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The new US administration has clearly understood the political case for renewable energies. Now is a very exciting time to work in the renewables industry in the United States. The political will to move forward is in the air. President Obama's pledges to invest in energy research and the production of clean energy are important signals. The House of Representatives has passed the Waxman-Markey Bill, and the Senate consideration of that bill is due. These developments give us hope. They show that President Obama's plans are going to be realized step-by-step. I have noted with great interest that the Waxman-Markey Bill intends to set a certain minimum quota for renewable energies.

The United States, as one of the biggest consumers of energy, needs an energy revolution. I am sure that the American spirit of innovation will bring about that revolution. Solar energy will become a transformational technology now that the US is committed to increase the promotion of renewables. Some of the best sites in the world for solar power are located in the south-western United States, right next to a region with strong demand. I cannot imagine a better breeding ground for solar technology.

The United States and Germany will be important partners in the world-wide endeavour. The so-called “Transatlantic Climate Bridge” in particular is intended to strengthen the collaboration between Germany and the United States in the field of energy and climate issues. The “Transatlantic Climate Bridge” was launched in Berlin in September 2008, and in December 2008 a kick-off event was held in the United States. The launch conference in Berlin concluded that the discourse on new approaches to climate protection should be stimulated on all levels of industry, politics and society. The ambition is to establish a network of politicians, business people, scientists and civil society working on fighting climate change. This project aims to bring together US-American and German initiatives, enterprises and scientific facilities and to enable an exchange of their different activities and approaches.

I think the new focus on renewable energies also presents good opportunities for cooperation between American and German companies. German companies are quite skilled at building up large renewables capacities and at integrating them into the grid. I think it is to our mutual advantage if German companies get even more involved in the American renewables sector than they are today.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

let me once again encourage American policymakers to follow this path and make the US a new world leader in the use of renewable energies. We in Germany are looking forward to an inspiring, enriching and effective collaboration with the United States on international energy issues. We also look forward to facing tough American competition in the renewables sector. This competition is going to benefit the clean development of the whole world.

I would like to wish the organizers of Intersolar 2009 all the best for a successful event.

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