Germany takes renewable energy very seriously.

Wind, solar, hydropower and biofuels provide 10 percent of Germany’s energy needs, Jörg Mayer, managing director of the country’s Renewable Energies Agency, told GlobalAtlanta on a recent trip to Atlanta.

Germany is outpacing the U.S., where renewables account for 8 percent of energy usage, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

Germany, eager to reduce carbon emissions, has ambitious goals and mandates that are likely to push its renewable energy usage even higher very quickly.

“We have to double it by 2020,” said Mr. Mayer, who spoke at a German American Chamber of Commerce luncheon at the W Hotel in downtown Atlanta and is a frequent visitor to the U.S.. “The European Union obliges us to do that.”

Germany’s minister of the environment, Norbert Röttgen, has set 2050 as a goal for the country to get 100 percent of its electricity from renewable sources. 

Mr. Röttgen is a member of Germany’s conservative party, the Christian Democratic Union, which has traditionally been less enthusiastic about renewable energy, said Mr. Mayer.

“That’s at least a number and a goal and it’s the first time a conservative politician said so,” Mr. Mayer said of Mr. Rottgen’s goal for 2050. “We will probably make it [the goal] quicker.” At the same time, Germany is phasing outs it nuclear power plants preferring to concentrate on the development of renewable sources.

Germany even requires that utility companies purchase electricity from renewable energy producers, giving them priority over all other producers. Since renewable energy can be more expensive to produce than conventional power, utility customers have to cover that extra cost, with the amount itemized on their monthly bills, he said.

Germans pay the extra cost because it is not exorbitant and because of a deep-seated desire to protect the environment, said Mr. Mayer, who traveled to the United States just to speak at the German chamber event.  

Also, with renewable energy, most of the money remains in Germany rather than going to a foreign country, as is the case with oil and natural gas.

“Those who really benefit from the expansion of renewable energy are the local producers, the farms, the windmill operators, the house owners with their solar rooftops,” he said.

In the U.S., some states have renewable energy programs similar to Germany’s, with subsidies built into the bills of all customers. But in Georgia and other states, electric customers can choose to pay extra for renewable energy, but it is not mandatory.

Georgia Power Co. allows customers to purchase power that is made from solar and biomass at a price of $5 for a block of 100 kllowatt hours. 

“The Georgia Public Service Commission doesn’t allow us to spread the cost of this energy across our entire base of ratepayers,” said Georgia Power spokeswoman Lynn Wallace.  

With the price of fossil fuels and nuclear power production expected to steadily increase, the day will eventually come when renewable power requires no public support, said Mr. Mayer, whose agency has a staff of 12. 

The state of Georgia is already starting to benefit from Germany’s renewable energy program. Heating accounts for half of Germany’s energy usage. Increasingly, the country is using wood pellets to produce heat. Germany currently gets its pellets domestically or from other countries in Europe. But some pellets could soon be on their way from the forests of south Georgia.

RWE Innogy of Germany and BioMass Capital Management AB of Sweden are building a $150 million wood pellet production plant on 300 acres near Waycross. Production is expected to begin in the first quarter of 2011. The wood pellets will be exported to Europe for energy production.

“With its vast forest lands, Georgia is the ideal partner for us in respect to biomass,” said Fritz Vahrenholt, CEO of RWE Innogy, when the plant was announced last year.

Meanwhile, Germany is phasing out its nuclear power plants even as nuclear gets a new push in the U.S. In Georgia, two new reactors are scheduled to be constructed on the Plant Vogtle site near Augusta.

Nuclear does not work well with renewable energy, Mr. Mayer said. Renewable energy needs a flexible, fast system, he added. When the wind is blowing heavily or the sun is shining frequently, the electric grid needs to be able to power down plants that produce electricity with conventional fuels. When there is less wind and sun, the power produced with conventional fuels can be increased.

But security procedures governing nuclear plants makes them difficult to shut down and power up quickly.

“Those countries in the world with a huge share of nuclear power have a very low share of renewable energies,” Mr. Mayer said. “One reason for that is these countries realize you can’t develop both technologies with the same speed. There will be a conflict one day.”

For more information on Germany’s renewable energy program, click here.  For more on the German American Chamber, click here.