Germany and the US are about to enter into a fresh period of deeper cooperation on energy and climate policies, said a top environmental minister from Europe’s leading economy.

“Germany and the US are faced with some very similar energy challenges and it’s important to discuss these in a transatlantic setting so we can learn about how best to meet these challenges. Both countries need to modernize their energy systems and make them more efficient,” Katharina Reiche, the parliamentary state secretary at the German environment ministry, said at the Intersolar Conference in San Francisco this week.

“If we meet these criteria we can decrease our dependency on energy imports and create sustainable jobs and counter dangerous climate change.”

The Transatlantic Climate Bridge project began in 2009 when the German government and the Commonwealth of Virginia signed an agreement to exchange expertise on climate policies. Reiche told the Intersolar conference that Germany and the US were entering a critical phase of transatlantic climate diplomacy and had a great deal to learn from one another.

“This initiative aims to strengthen cooperation between US and Germany,” she said. “Transatlantic cooperation translates to an economic policy on both sides of the Atlantic with positive effects also on our common security.”

“Both economies rely heavily on energy imports. Our energy transformation lies at heart of industrial progress.”

She said states such as Delaware and Illinois had already approached her environment ministry to discuss their plans for a “greener” economy.

But she said that private sector must also be involved in the policy dialogue on both sides of the Atlantic. US company First Solar already has a major manufacturing facility in Frankfurt Oder and German-based Solar Millennium had invested $6 billion in the 968 MW Blythe CSP plant in the Mojave desert, the largest solar power project to date in the US.

Hitting The Targets

Reiche said that European targets to reduce carbon emissions by 20% by 2020 and to increase renewable sources of energy by 20% by 2020 had helped grow the clean energy industry.

“Germany and Europe have set themselves ambitious climate and energy targets for the year 2020,” she said. “As a result of our national feed in tariffs, efforts to intensify energy efficiency standards and the establishment of a functioning emissions trading scheme, we were well placed to meet our goals for 2020 and beyond.”

But she said Germany had taken the discussion one step further. “We are going to decrease our GHG emissions by 80% up 95% compared with 1990 levels and decrease of 40% by 2020.

“We’re going to cut our primary energy consumption by 50% by 2050. And we’re going to increase our share of renewable energy to 80% in the electricity sector by 2050. The key focus must be on extending and modernizing energy grid. This is a challenge we share with our American partners.”

She said that policy targets to increase the renewable share of around 17% in the electricity sector to at least 35% in nine years had turned Germany into a renewables energy powerhouse. Last year, Germany invested 26 billion euros in the renewable energy sector in 2010 alone and created 370,000 jobs in the sector last year, double the 2004 figure.

“Ambitious development of renewable energy is the center of our low carbon economy strategy and a milestone for the transformation and modernization of the energy supply in Germany, which will be based on renewable energy,” she said.

Germany’s feed in tariffs had helped stimulate its renewable energy industry and had helped position Germany to meet its 2020 goals, she said.

On A Path Alone

But subsidies could meet challenges in the US, where a range of energy industry participants have condemned their long-term use. Ramesh Ramamoorty, head of the US Department of Energy’s SunShot initiative, said that the ultimate goal of his program was to eliminate subsidies from the solar market.

“There is no turning back,” said Ramamoorty.

“We would like to have subsidy free solar,” Ramamoorty said. “We have subsidies for everything.”

“We want to get to a situation where we have solar electricity approximately 5-6 cents per kilowatt hour which is comparable with the lowest price of electricity in the US, comparable with fossil fuels, without subsidies.”

“At that point it is purely technology and science driving the market,” he said, emphasizing that the challenge laid down by Department of Energy Secretary Steven Chu to the technology community had sparked a strong response.

“There is no turning back,” said Ramamoorty.