|Houses in Germany with solar roofs. Image from here.
Well, it’s been a busy few days since Christmas, which has seen me in no less than six different countries. The reason for this was the fact that I had to go over to England to pick up a large trailer I got cheap on eBay, as well as a bargain basement 10 year-old-car to pull it.
When I got to England, on Boxing Day I couldn’t help but notice the whole place looked like a giant space toddler had spilled a cosmic glass of water over the whole country. Roads were submerged and trees poked out of what appeared to be lakes but were in fact fields. I have never seen the country looking so bedraggled and wet and it is quite amazing to think that only about ten months ago I wrote a post about the fact that meteorologists were forecasting a drought that would dry up all the rivers and lead to a devastating loss of wildlife. Well, they were a bit wrong on that one, with 2012 forecast to be the wettest year on historical record for England. Welcome to the new normal.
On the way out of the country a couple of days later, indeed, a flooded road led me to miss my car-train through the Channel Tunnel and I didn’t arrive in France until fairly late into the evening. When I did get there, France was entirely dark, so I don’t have any observations to make about the place, other than that it gets dark there at night time. Ditto with Belgium, which I entered later in the evening.
I had to make it to Eindhoven in Holland, where my motel bed awaited me, and did so at about 11pm. Starving hungry I enquired about getting something to eat (this particular establishment being located close to the motorway for ease of parking/locating) and was told that I could either pick from the restaurant or order sushi in the bar. A quick look at the restaurant confirmed that it was outside of my price league, so I retired to the bar to nibble on some wallet-emptying raw fish and sink a fine Belgian beer. Not for the first time in my life I marveled at the fact the Dutch are the best English speakers in the world; far better, indeed, than the English.
The next morning I hit the road again with my frankly gigantic trailer. The rain had cleared and it was sunny, illuminating the green Dutch landscape and putting me in a dreamy frame of mind. I had been driving at a steady 80kmph (50mph) all the way, as this is considered the best speed at which to save fuel – and here in Holland I noticed a strange thing: everyone else seemed to be doing the same. There were no aggressive light-flashing BMWheads eyeballing me as they screamed past. I had heard it said that the Dutch had got into eco driving as part of their fossil fuel energy descent plan, and here was the proof of it.
All that changed when I got into Germany. I always feel a bit nervous in Germany because I don’t speak more than about 50 words of German – a language deficiency often reciprocated by the natives in my experience. It has been a couple of years since I was last there – but what a difference! It is obvious even to one passing through that Germany is going hell for leather to make itself run on renewable energy. Last time I was there you could see all the wind turbines that had sprouted across the landscape – this time the story was all solar.
I’m used to seeing the odd house here in Denmark or the UK with a few solar panels on it. But Germany seems to be ramping up this on an industrial scale. Many houses sported 10-40 panels, but it was common to see barns, factories and even car showrooms with roofs made entirely of panels. Usually, as far as I could tell (remember, I was driving past) there would be 100-200 panels per roof. The record was one which had eight clusters of 8*8 panels, meaning there must have been 480 panels on a single roof.
|A warehouse roof in Germany
Of course, and readers of this blog and ones like it will be well aware, that doesn’t make Germany ‘green’ or sustainable. There are still the monster truck parks, the giant supermarkets, the sprawling highways full of brand new cars driving at 200kmph (124mph) – and let’s not forget that Germany is a manufacturing country with a huge demand for high concentration energy and raw materials. I’m also well aware that Germany benefits from trading electricity with nuclear France, using that country as a giant battery.
But still. It’s hard not to admire the direction the country is taking. Everyone seems to be on board with it, and you’d have to be a dyed-in-the-wool cynic to say that a huge overhaul of the energy system conducted by this nation of engineers is not a step in the right direction.