This is part of the America's Future series airing on FOX News Channel, looking at the challenges facing the country in the 21st century.
FREIBURG, Germany — Tucked away in Germany's southwest corner lies the country's throughly modern "environmental capital" of Freiburg, where residents are embracing a number of green energy projects that may soon be running in the United States.
Freiburg is abandoning fossil fuels for small hydroelectric dams and hi-tech wind turbines. A quaint and historic town, much of its landscape is now dominated by solar panels, which top everything from its highways to its city hall.
“There are more renewables here than we know what to do with,” said Joseph Pesch, a resident and proponent of the projects.
Freiburg gets a lot of sun, which aids the program — and so do German laws engineered to promote green power. Citizens who generate electricity using solar panels, for instance, get reimbursed by the government for the energy they feed into the electric grid.
Those laws have encouraged the use and development of green technology and jobs, making Germany the world leader in solar and wind power. Some 15 percent of all power in Germany is green, and the government hopes to double that figure in the near future.
That output could increase the country’s energy independence, which is just what the government is intending.
“We can either pay Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, or we can pay our own energy companies here,” said Martin Schoepe, an official at Germany’s Ministry for the Environment. “I’d opt for the latter.”
But could these plans work in the U.S.?
America currently draws just a small amount of its energy from renewable sources, but it gets far more sun and wind than Germany.
And much of the technology that’s being used to great effect in Germany was developed in the U.S. With laws similar to Germany’s now being considered in America, it might be just a matter of time before the projects hit home too.
“I very much see this working in America,” said Rian van Staden, principal consultant of the environmental energy firm Intelligent Renewable Energy. “America is one of the most exciting renewable markets.”
Still, there are some caveats. Freiburgers have found that start-up costs can be high, and rules and regulations can get heavy-handed. Even the eco-committed have differences, and some locals knocked the look of the white wind turbines in Germany’s Black Forest.
Yet residents and visitors are reaping the benefits of the programs, enjoying cheap utility costs in their energy-conserving homes.
“Part of the reason we came here was the environmental friendliness of the place,” said
David Benson, a British citizen who lives in Freiburg with his German wife and two sons.
And as those projects gain traction in the U.S., they are benefits Americans could soon be enjoying too.