Two graphic examples in renewable energy policy: One from Germany on how to do things properly and reap the clean energy results, and one from the US on how exactly not to do things.
Let's start with how not to do things.
US support for renewable energy has historically been horribly sporadic, with rapid growth followed by just as rapid stagnation, following behind federal support or lack thereof. Plenty of charts have been produced documenting this, and TreeHugger has written about it plenty of times, so no need to rehash that.
The current example of that trend is the expiration of the wind power production tax credit at the end of December. ThinkProgress notes, "manufacturers are already seeing a cut back in orders and developers are thinning their portfolios."
A study released in the past week by Navigant, prepared for the American Wind Energy Association shows that the expiration of the tax credit could cause the loss of 37,000 jobs in the US. A further example from the Center for American Progress shows that in Iowa alone 3,000 jobs are in wind power, and the sector brings in $50 million annually. All jeopardized, if not completely, but very significantly by the on-again-off-again federal support for wind power.
For how to do things correctly look to Germany, which is now thoroughly reaping the results of consistent and strong support for renewable energy coming via their world class feed-in tariffs.
EcoGeek points out that in 2011 renewable energy production was greater than that from nuclear, natural gas, and hard coal. Lignite power (softer coal) still beats out renewables through.
According to a report from German utility BDEW, renewable energy accounted for 20 percent of the country's total energy output, up from 16.4 percent last year. Lignite-fired output produced 24.6 percent of the electricity.
Compared to the US, Germany actually has middling renewable power potential—substantial but not like the Great Plains for wind power or great sun-drenched lands in California, the southwest and elsewhere just primed for both centralized and decentralized solar power. It isn't technology that's holding the US back from tapping into that, it's inconsistent policy and political willpower.