Germany’s decision to wean itself off of nuclear power by 2022 is a significant shift in the world energy debate and one of special interest to Hawaii.
It resonates here because the commitment is not only to end reliance on nuclear reactors that provide 20 percent of Germany’s electricity, but to replace nuclear with clean, renewable energy sources rather than fossil fuels.
Hawaii has sought to make a similar shift to renewables in energy independence goals set by both the Lingle and Abercrombie administrations.
The dynamics in Hawaii and Germany are quite different, and there are doubts about whether Germany can pull off its ambitious plan.
But having renewables embraced on such a grand scale by one of the world’s leading powers with the biggest economy in Europe should give momentum to local efforts.
The impetus in Germany is worry about the safety of nuclear power in the wake of the unresolved crisis at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi reactors following the Sendai earthquake and tsunami in March.
While other nuclear-dependent countries — including the United States — continue to defend its safety, Germany’s leadership has decided that the Fukushima disaster in one of the world’s most technologically advanced countries exposed risks that are too great to ignore.
In Hawaii the issue isn’t nuclear, but our almost total dependence on oil, which sucks money out of the state and leaves us constantly vulnerable to political and economic disruptions that occur far from here.
While we’re one of the most resource-poor places on Earth in terms of fossil fuels, we’re one of the richest when it comes to energy from the sun, wind, ocean and volcanoes.
And as a small island state, we’re uniquely positioned to harvest the energy from these renewable resources to generate electricity and power increasingly viable electric cars that need to travel relatively short distances between charges in Hawaii.
If you think it’s a technological and political challenge to get power from wind farms on Molokai and Lanai to Oahu, consider Germany’s plans to transmit wind power more than 1,500 miles from its northern coast to its southern population centers.
For German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the issue goes beyond energy to gaining a competitive economic advantage by showing others "how it is possible to achieve growth, creating jobs and economic prosperity, while shifting the energy supply toward renewable energies."
The same is true in Hawaii, of course. A shift to renewables brings not only the economic security of more accessible energy sources, but significant economic opportunities that would come from developing the technology and exporting it throughout the region.
All it takes is leadership to get us past the NIMBYism, economic rivalries, regulatory gridlock and cultural sensitivities that impede any change in Hawaii.