Book Review: Clean Break, by Osha Gray Davidson

I just bought “Clean Break” by Osha Gray Davidson, which is a book on the explosive growth of renewable energy in Germany.

Solar’s growth in Germany is so fast that even someone paying attention may get behind. Davidson writes that solar has 30,000 megawatts of capacity in 2012. Actually, the latest figure was already 31,007 MW at the end of September.

Davidson discusses the “Renewable Energy Act” of 2000, but I prefer to call it by its official name, which is “Law on Priority for Renewable Energy”.

I agree with his assessment that one of the important purposes of this law was to put more of the capacity in citizens’ hands, have a more democratic and decentralized system. Here are some past posts on this blog about that particular point:

Renewable energy ownership in Germany (April 2012)

Ulrich Kelber on German feed-in tariff (June 2011)

Davidson then discusses the costs of feed-in tariffs, including the latest developments. I agree with his analysis and recommend reading it to everyone interested in the field.

He follows up with debunking several myths about German electricity that were spread from opponents of renewable after the nuclear phase-out decision last year. As he writes, there were no blackouts, the already high reliability of the grid is up compared to 2010, there was no need to import electricity from France.

I very much liked the quote from Hans-Josef Fell. When asked about the storage problem, Fell said “It is not a problem. It is a task.”

Exactly. Just do it anyway and prove all those pessimist losers wrong.

Someway through chapter five the fonts suddenly get smaller, which seems to be an error that should be fixed.

Another statement by Hans-Josef Fell reported in chapter 6 is also very interesting. Actually, Fell looked at America as a model at the time he wrote the Law on Priority for Renewable Energy. He saw solar power on the White House and wind power in California and thought “Why can’t we have this in Germany”. Things have changed after Reagan became President.

Another small error is the statement that Germany wants to get 30% of electricity from renewable by 2020. That was correct until last year, when that goal was raised to 35% (Article 1, Paragraph 2 of the Law on Priority for Renewable Energy). Most people assume the actual figure will beat that goal.

The e-book somewhat weirdly starts out at chapter 2, readers need to flip back pages if they want to read chapter 1. I have a small issue with the translation provided for the word “Energiewende”. Davidson writes it simply means “energy change”.

Actually, “Wende” is also the word that was used for the historic change in Eastern Germany that enabled the reunification in 1990. I think that’s a fact a book about the “Energiewende” should mention. For Germans, the word means not only change, but also “shift or transition of historic proportions”.

I very much enjoyed the three extra chapters. One on the German Parliament building, the Reichstag, which I learned is the greenest Parliament building of the world. I like being world champion, especially since the German soccer team has failed to win the last couple of tournaments.

The second one was on Ritter Sport, a famous chocolate maker, and their policy of getting their energy from renewable sources.

And the third was an interview with Hans-Jochen Fell, the main author of the Law on Priority for Renewable Energy, with lots of interesting insights.

This book is clearly required reading for anyone interested in renewable energy issues.

Update: Davidson kindly replies in a comment to this post.

Published by kflenz

Professor at Aoyama Gakuin University, Tokyo. Author of Lenz Blog (since 2003,

5 thoughts on “Book Review: Clean Break, by Osha Gray Davidson

  1. As a regular reader of Lenz Blog, I’m glad you liked the book. Since the book is about Germany’s renewable energy economy, I take feedback from Germans very seriously.

    About the translation of Energiewende. I do offer several choices at the beginning, including “energy transition” and “energy shift.” (Although, maybe that was misplaced by the formatting problem?) The possible link to Reunification – “Die Wende” – intrigued me, too.

    Most Germans I interviewed, however, said that was coincidence, and the first book to use the term “Energie-Wende” was published by Oko-Instituts in 1980, several years before Reunification.

    I blame my error on total solar PV capacity in Germany squarely on you and your countrymen and women. With Germany adding massive amounts of PV every week, any figure is quickly out of date! I’m joking, of course. The phenomenal growth in renewable energy of all kinds is the beauty of the Energiewende, despite being somewhat problematic.

    Thanks for catching the error about renewable energy targets – I’ll fix that. I’ll have the publisher/Amazon sort out the technical problems ASAP.

    I’m very glad that overall you found the book useful. I hope to return to Germany to learn and write more about one of the most important movements on the planet.


    1. Thanks for your reply! It is always nice to hear from an author of a book I reviewed.

      I missed the explanation for the translation at the beginning, having failed to flip back that far. And while it may be coincidence, many Germans will still think “change of historical proportions” when hearing the term.

      As to the difficulty of keeping up with the quickly improving situation, you’re in the good company of the World Bank and the European Commission:


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