BERLIN A major expansion of renewable energy could create millions of jobs worldwide, stir economic growth in heavily indebted countries and help fight climate change at the same time, an American adviser to the German leader Angela Merkel said on Monday.
Jeremy Rifkin, a best-selling author and an adviser to the European Union on climate change and energy security, said Germany has been leading the way by creating some 250,000 jobs in renewable energy in just a few years, but could do more.
Rifkin, who will join Merkel at a public hearing on the subject in Berlin on Tuesday, said investing more in renewable energy and the accompanying internet technology to link homes and buildings with green energy networks could help economies weighed down by the euro zone debt crisis to start growing again.
"The question right now is how do you save the euro zone and the EU?" Rifkin told Reuters. "It's not just austerity, austerity, austerity because there's no growth. How can an economy grow to pay back the loans with all these cuts?
"Everyone realizes the only way to grow is to balance the austerity with other measures and what's needed is an economic plan that creates thousands of business opportunities and millions of jobs. This is a moment of great opportunity."
He said Greece and Portugal, for instance, could relatively quickly create thousands of new businesses and many more jobs with the right incentives for renewable energy that could trigger a boom in public-private partnerships.
"It'll work for Greece and Portugal immediately," Rifkin said. "As soon as you start putting in the infrastructure...you immediately create job opportunities, especially in the construction industry."
Rifkin, who believes Germany needs to do more to lead Europe and the world into the post-carbon era, said the euro zone crisis is not an isolated problem that is hitting only Europe.
"The euro crisis is part of a larger crisis. We're at an end-game for the industrial age based on fossil fuels. Every time this global economy based on fossil fuels grows, prices go up, purchasing power goes down and the economy will collapse."
Rifkin, who has been a lecturer at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, said Germany now gets 20 percent of its electricity from renewable sources such as wind and solar, and is on track for 35 percent by 2020.
If that push for a mid-21st century goal of 100 percent carbon-free economies could be duplicated elsewhere, many millions of jobs could be created across the EU, in the United States and in Asia, he said.
"Germany has shown how it can be done with its feed-in tariff," he said, referring to the government-mandated support renewable energy producers receive from consumers that helps defray the investment costs of micro renewable power plants.
"They're leading the way," he added, noting cloud-covered Germany is the world's leader in solar with about half of the total. "Germany is the model. They're so far along but not taking any credit. They need to be pushing it more."
Rifkin's newest book, "The Third Industrial Revolution," to be published later this month, offers a roadmap of how hundreds of millions of people can produce their own green energy in homes, offices and factories and share information online.
"I'm guardedly hopeful but I'm not naive about how difficult this is," he said, adding that there are 191 million buildings in EU countries -- and the potential to turn them into micro power plants over the next 30 years.
"We all know we have to get into renewables. It is the solution for the EU and every other region of the world."
(Reporting By Erik Kirschbaum; Editing by Rosalind Russell)