Energy is a major concern of mine. I fear that peaked oil production, rising prices and falling supply could cause a terrible decline in standard of living and general human happiness in the world, and I am frustrated by how counter productive the American far right and far left have been in this area.

Recently I spent 12 days in southern Germany with some family and friends. I was surprised to see a massive, sensible committment to alternative energy. Now I’m a bit skeptical about windmills, although I see fields of them here and there in the USA. But this one was unbelievably huge, towering over the Black Forest near Oberprechtal:

But I was more impressed by the solar panels. I saw them everywhere, on the roofs of houses and barns. Checking on the website of the Bundesverband Solarindustrie, I was not surprised to read that in 2007, peak solar energy production in Germany was 842 megawatts (Germany’s total electrical generating capacity is over 100 gigawatts). Our friends in Oberprechtal explained that the government gives out loans for the installation of these panels, and then you start selling power back to the national grid.

The other major effort I witnessed was the production of canola (rapeseed) for biodiesel. Germany is not the land of hippie vegetarians, I assure you. They eat meat, possibly even more than Americans do. We noticed a conspicuous lack of row crops and a vast amount of pastureland and cows, but we also saw yellow fields of canola everywhere.

Canola-based biodiesel is organized by Union zur Foerderung von Oel und Protienpflanzen. They operate their own pumping stations, since oil companies have refused to cooperate with them. In 2006, Germany produced 2 billion liters of biodiesel fuel (Germany consumes 150 billion liters of petroleum per year, as a comparison). Coincidently, on the first leg of my planefligth to Germany, I sat next to a research scientist from Grand Forks, who worked on biodiesel. He had talked about Canola, and predicted that this crop would soon make the Dakotas, Wyoming, Montana and others very rich energy-producing states.

What I saw in Germany is the product of the practical efforts of their Green movement, which stands in stark constrast with America. Obviously, we have folks on the far right who think the Earth is 6000 years old and oil is continuously generated abiotically. But I also blame the left. The American so-called green movement is subverted by leftists who have not acted practially to solve problems of alternative energy production the way the Germans have done, because they are too interested in attacking capitalism. In Germany, the socialists and Greens have their own parties and generally stay in their own lanes. We also are suffering from the very damaging power of the US corn lobby. Ethanol from corn consumes almost the same amount of energy to produce as it yields when burned, while biodiesel from Canola yields a 300% to 400% energy profit.

I’d like to see a serious effort made in the USA, comperable to the Apollo program or the Marshall Plan, to make American energy independant with a long-term-sustainable energy economy. Without energy to amplify human labor, we will not be able to maintain a happy comfortable standard of living or even be able to feed our own population adequately.