Making Green By Going Green In Europe

What better place to prove your solar panel product than in one of Europe's wettest countries: Wales.

"Who would ever think about using solar to charge a cell phone or a computer? It totally changes the availability of renewable energy to folks all around the planet," says Robert Hertzberg, a former speaker of the California assembly who once ran for mayor of Los Angeles.

He's now a green entrepreneur, still building his factory in Wales, CBS News correspondent Sheila MacVicar reports.

Hertzberg's idea: Use innovative Swiss technology to make flexible, even miniature, solar panels that are sensitive to any light. It's so effective, say company executives already promoting their product, that you can power everything from cell phones to laptops to shelters for homeless disaster victims.

The best place for investment in this innovation is in Europe, says Hertzberg, because the "financial markets are more receptive, there's a deeper understanding."

Wales was historically home to the dirtiest energy industry: coal. The closed mines are monuments to old energy.

Now Wales, like the rest of Europe, has set a high bar. They want 20 percent more of all the energy used to be climate friendly in 2020.

Much of Europe looks to the success of Germany, another typically cloudy country. But Germany is by far the world's biggest user of solar panels. German homeowners can actually sell the excess electricity their panels produce back to their main power grid. Imagine making money on your electric bill.

New energy means big business in Europe. One of the reasons is access to big bucks — and fewer strings attached. Dozens of American companies have come to London and the alternate investment market, where less regulation means raising capital is cheaper and faster.

Michael Liebreich calls the alternate investment market the development market of choice. His own booming company offers information on good green energy investments around the globe.

In yet another indication of how much Europe has to teach the U.S.,
Liebreich was on Capital Hill today testifying about what Europe does better to a newly receptive Congress. "The U.S. can and should be the world leader on energy efficiency," he told a Congressional panel.

"They are playing catch-up pretty fast, and they want ideas on how to accelerate America's rollout of clean energy. And the perception is we know more about it in Europe because we've been doing it for longer," Leibrich says.

Notes Hertzberg: "There's a great sense of urgency in Europe. They're pushing hard to try to do everything possible to 'green up.'"

While leaders in the U.S. are slowly admitting that global warming is a problem, Hertzberg's solar cells suggest that small things can lead to big solutions — and even bigger bucks.
  • Melissa McNamara

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