Clean Power

Published on March 7th, 2013 | by John Farrell


Clean Break Inspires Americans To Pursue “Energy Change”

March 7th, 2013 by  

Renewable energy journalist Osha Gray Davidson recently released a book called Clean Break, detailing the German Energiewende (translation: energy change or energy transition). It’s a story of how the German systematically shifted to clean energy, finding as they proceeded that the possibilities were greater, the costs lower, and the benefits for ordinary citizens more prodigious than anyone could have forecast. From the book:

“We’ll definitely get to 35 percent renewable power by 2020,” [Dr. Joachim Pfeiffer, a leading spokesman for the center-right Christian Democrats] said, referring to the next official target. “In fact, we’ll probably reach 40 percent.”

…A whopping 65 percent of the country’s total renewable power capacity is now owned by individuals, cooperatives and communities, leaving Germany’s once all‐powerful utilities with just a sliver (6.5 percent) of this burgeoning sector.

It’s a good lesson for the U.S., where policy makers often feel that they have to cater to set expectations based on entrenched interests (e.g. utilities and fossil fuel companies), and where the Germans took their inspiration from (in President Carter’s response to the energy crisis). President Reagan undid most of our progress, and the German lead on clean energy is the result of our belated return to the game. Clean Break shows how the Germans have led, and how (in turn) the U.S. can regain its leadership role in clean energy.

My recommendation? Read this book.  Buy it for $1.

And believe that we can do the same.

In the face of modest renewable resources and a grid dominated by large fossil fuel and nuclear power, Clean Break is the story of how committed German citizens have achieved remarkable energy change. It’s the story of the democratizing and renewablizing an entire country’s electricity system from the bottom up, a triumph of local power.

What the German people have accomplished is like the American Apollo Program landing on Mars, five years ahead of schedule, and powered by a million citizen-built sparklers. And that’s just the first stop. Clean Break helps Americans understand that they don’t have to be left behind.

This post originally appeared on ILSR’s Energy Self-Reliant States blog.

Check out our new 93-page EV report, based on over 2,000 surveys collected from EV drivers in 49 of 50 US states, 26 European countries, and 9 Canadian provinces.

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

About the Author

directs the Democratic Energy program at ILSR and he focuses on energy policy developments that best expand the benefits of local ownership and dispersed generation of renewable energy. His seminal paper, Democratizing the Electricity System, describes how to blast the roadblocks to distributed renewable energy generation, and how such small-scale renewable energy projects are the key to the biggest strides in renewable energy development.   Farrell also authored the landmark report Energy Self-Reliant States, which serves as the definitive energy atlas for the United States, detailing the state-by-state renewable electricity generation potential. Farrell regularly provides discussion and analysis of distributed renewable energy policy on his blog, Energy Self-Reliant States (, and articles are regularly syndicated on Grist and Renewable Energy World.   John Farrell can also be found on Twitter @johnffarrell, or at

  • Otis11

    If the goal of 35% by 2020 is no longer a challenge, up the goal for 2025! You don’t want to change the 2020 goal for policy stability reasons but the 2025 goal is still more than a decade off, and by upping that you will encourage others to take action sooner rather than later…

    One of the other big problems the american renewable energy policy has – it encourages large centralized systems. Unless the government unfairly subsidizes these systems going forward, a 100 sq mi solar plant is not going to be economical! It makes more sense as point of use… Anyway, I digress….

  • American’s are not “being left behind”…American’s are being “kicked to the curb”..

  • Ross Chandler

    “This title is not currently available for purchase” –

    Region restrictions??

    • Hmm, might be. You’re in Ireland, right?

      • Ross Chandler

        Yes. I see it is also available to UK purchasers only from

Back to Top ↑