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German Investments in Clean Alternative Energy Pay Off

With virtually no oil or natural gas resources of its own, Germany relies on Russia for 20 percent of its oil and one-third of its gas imports. But with Russia displaying a willingness to use oil as a political weapon, Germany is placing new emphasis on achieving energy independence - especially by developing alternative energy sources. As part of his series on the politics of oil, VOA's Brian Padden reports how German efforts to reduce pollution have led to new ways to produce energy.

Wind turbines dot the landscape in rural Germany. In some regions, wind energy produces up to 20 percent of the electricity used in German power grids. Engineer Hendrich Ziese says how much a single turbine can produce depends on the weather.

"When we have good days, we can [produce] 20,000 kilowatts per hour," Ziese said. "On bad days we make nothing."

Germany began investing heavily in alternative energy to meet the targets set out in the Kyoto Protocol, the 1997 global environmental agreement to reduce greenhouse gases.

Germany has achieved a 19 percent reduction in CO2 emissions, in part by providing subsidies to companies willing to invest in new technologies.

Hauke Eggers-Mohmann with Notus Energy, which develops wind turbines, says the government guaranteed them a fixed price over a 10-year period for alternative energy.

"Also it would support with fixed prices not only wind energy, but also other forms of energy, so that it was possible for private companies to develop and carry out other projects," Eggers-Mohmann said.

The government subsidies helped companies develop new energy related technologies at a time when oil and gas prices were relatively low. Now with petroleum prices at record highs, Germany profits twice: it produces cheaper alternative energy and exports this technology around the world.

A case in point is the Puralube Company, which recycles waste oil to produce clean lubricant oil, fuel and gas. The process was invented in the United States, but developed here because Germany guaranteed a return on the company's investment.

The firm is now making plans to open an oil recycling plant in the United States. Puralube's Andreas Schuppel says investments in environmentally-friendly energy technology are paying economic dividends.

"We are business guys that is for sure, but we live in a market where we have decreased resources," Schuppel said. "Mostly everybody worldwide knows that we cannot live like in the past 20 years."

But Germany is far from being energy independent. Despite the investment in alternative energy, Susanne Droge with the German Institute for International and Security affairs says there is not enough wind or sun to meet the country's energy needs.

"For Germany, I will guess we can increase the share of alternative energies made at home, but we will not become independent," Droge said. "It is a dream."

Droge says to keep the lights on in Germany, the country must continue developing domestic alternative technologies, while also relying on multiple international energy suppliers.