Germany Goes for Oil Savings Gold

February 25, 2014 | 4:55 pm
Josh Goldman
Former contributor

For the past several weeks the eyes of the world were glued on Sochi, watching the XXII Olympic Winter Games. But that’s not the only global contest I’m interested in. The U.S. and countries around the world are also racing to reduce their oil use and global warming emissions from transportation. Developing a cleaner transportation economy may not seem as exciting as a ski-cross photo finish, but it has major implications for our future.

This post is part of Other Countries At Work, a series on oil-saving solutions abroad.

Here at home we are making progress on the UCS plan to cut the nation’s oil use in half in twenty years. President Obama recently announced the next round of fuel efficiency and global warming pollution standards for medium and heavy duty trucks; the fuel economy of the average new car sold in January reached 24.9 miles per gallon (mpg) — a 21 percent increase since October 2007; and greenhouse gas emissions for new U.S. vehicles are at an all-time low.

The U.S. is not the only country trimming oil use, however. Other countries are enacting policies to curb oil use and transportation-related emissions too.

How Germany is reducing emissions

Germany, for example, is racking up the medals at Sochi and developing a suite of solutions to cut oil use. Under the European Union’s framework for reducing carbon dioxide pollution, by 2020 the average new vehicle sold in Europe will emit 40 percent fewer emissions compared with the 2007 fleet average. To help meet these standards, Germany has pledged to increase electric vehicle production from less than 2,000 units today to 1 million units by 2020, and 5 million by 2030.

After stagnating for nearly 20 years, average U.S. fuel economy has begun to rise.  Source: EPA Fuel Economy Trends, Dec 2013

After stagnating for nearly 20 years, average U.S. fuel economy has begun to rise.
Source: EPA Fuel Economy Trends, Dec 2013

Producing and promoting EVs is not new for German automakers. The very first Porsche was found to have run on electricity after recently being unearthed in an Austrian garage, where it had been stored since 1902, and Tesla has partnered with a German rail operator to open a string of charging stations along key autobahn routes. Germany’s hydrogen refueling network is also rapidly expanding in order to better spur the hydrogen fuel-cell vehicle market.

Despite the deep-rooted German affinity for cars, German cities are giving their residents more options for getting around; improving public transit and encouraging pedestrian or bicycle access to shops and work, for example. Hamburg, Germany’s second largest city, is planning to drastically reduce the number of cars in the city center by enabling residents to commute on foot or by bicycle through a “Green Network” transportation corridor. The only major European city to have attempted something similar is Copenhagen, which is currently building a network of “bicycle superhighways” that spread from the city center to suburbs.

Clean fuel in Germany

Germany is also focused on cleaning up its transportation fuels. Chemical company Clariant and biofuel producer Haltermann are testing a German vehicle fleet powered by cellulosic ethanol derived from agricultural residues. U.S. companies are also beginning to produce agricultural residue-based cellulosic ethanol, and for good reason. Cellulosic ethanol made from non-food sources like agricultural residues can emit around 80 percent fewer lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions compared to gasoline. Check out this interactive googlemap that displays where commercial scale cellulosic ethanol facilities are operating or under construction across the U.S.

Though America has been working to reduce our oil use, more work is needed. Using much of the same technology being deployed in Germany and around the world—more efficient and advanced vehicles, cleaner fuels, and more transportation options in our towns and cities—we can cut our nation’s projected oil use in half over the next 20 years. Let your voice be heard and urge President Obama to go for the gold in making the Half the Oil plan a reality. You can also sign up for our UCS newsletters and action alerts that make it easy to support the full range of oil solutions—from better biofuels to fuel efficiency standards and beyond.