On May 25, 1961, speaking before Congress, John F. Kennedy delivered these stirring lines: “I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the Earth.” He enumerated the enormous costs of the endeavor, but concluded by affirming his belief that the goal was worth the price. The nation agreed and made a commitment to go to the moon, although no one was certain it was even possible. Eight years later, the world watched in awe as America fulfilled its goal.
An audacious national goal has amazing power to inspire people to achieve the seemingly impossible. A commitment made before the world can transform an idea into an imperative.
Last year, following Japan’s Fukushima nuclear disaster, Germany made its own ambitious commitment. Deeply shaken by the meltdown, the German electorate demanded their political leaders phase out nuclear power – and fast. Eight of Germany’s 17 nuclear power plants were shuttered immediately, and legislation was passed to close the remaining nine by 2022.
Plentiful electricity is essential for Germany’s industrial economy, and before the phase-out, nuclear provided a quarter of Germany’s supply. Increasing use of coal is not an option as Germany remains committed to reducing its CO2 emissions to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2020. To meet both commitments simultaneously, Germany is seeking to become the first major industrial economy powered primarily by renewable energy.
Meeting this challenge will require innovative technologies and public policies. Germany already generates an impressive 25 percent of its power from renewables, but to meet its targets of 35 percent by 2020 and 80 percent by 2050, Germany will have to do more than just deploy more wind and solar. It must deploy smart grid and storage technologies to knit intermittent energy sources into a stable power supply. It must improve energy efficiency in many of its 19.5 million buildings. And it needs 2,300 miles of new high-voltage transmission lines to move power from giant wind farms off the northern coast to the industrial heartland in the south.
From the outset, critics have been skeptical about Germany’s chances, and the chorus of naysayers has grown louder in recent months. They complain costs will be too high, government is too disorganized, and infrastructure cannot be built quickly enough. While the concerns have merit, doubters would do well to remember the politics. The phase-out decision was driven by broad popular support and enacted by a center-right governing coalition, historically nuclear power’s biggest political friends. Any alternative to the current coalition would only support the phase-out more strongly. In short: there is no going back.
As with JFK’s moonshot 50 years ago, Germany has no roadmap. The nation is pushing the envelope of the possible and obstacles are to be expected. But when you can’t go back, you find a way forward. As the world has seen before, a commitment has amazing power to unleash the Right Stuff.
Wyatt C. King is a Director at the Albright Stonebridge Group, an international strategy firm based in Washington, D.C.
Posted: 11/15/2012 9:39:07 AM by
Mary Kestner | with 0 comments