CleanTechnica: Germany Has More Solar Power Because Everyone Wins

February 11, 2013

germansolar2

One more from CleanTechnica expands on a key point:

Suddenly everyone knows about Germany’s solar power dominance because Fox Newsheads made an ass of themselves, suggesting that the country is a sunny, tropical paradise. Most media folks have figured out that there are some monster differences in policy (e.g. a feed-in tariff), but then latch on to the “Germans pay a lot extra” meme. Germans do, and are perfectly happy with it, but that’s still not the story.

The real reason Germany dominates in solar (and wind) is their commitment to democratizing energy.

Half of their renewable power is owned by ordinary Germans, because that wonky-sounding feed-in tariff (often known as a CLEAN Contract Program in America) makes it ridiculously simple and safe for someone to park their money in solar panels on their roof instead of making pennies in interest at the bank.

It also makes their “energy change” movement politically bulletproof. Germans aren’t tree-hugging wackos giving up double mochas for wind turbines — they are investing by the tens of thousand in a clean energy future that is putting money back in their pockets and creating well over 300,000 new jobs (at last count).  Their policy makes solar cost half as much to install as it does in America, where the free market’s red tape can’t compete with their “socialist” efficiency.

Fox News’ gaffe about sunshine helps others paper over the real tragedy of American energy policy. In a country founded on the concept of self-reliance (goodbye, tea imports!), we finance clean energy with tax credits that make wind and solar reliant on Wall Street instead of Main Street. We largely preclude participation by the ordinary citizen unless they give up ownership of their renewable energy system to a leasing company. We make clean energy a complicated alternative to business as usual, while the cloudy, windless Germans make the energy system of the future by making it stupid easy and financially rewarding.

I’m all for pounding the faithless fools of Fox, but let’s learn the real secret to German energy engineering and start making democratic energy in America.

Washington Post Wonkblog:

The main point here: Germany doesn’t get an enormous amount of sunlight, relatively speaking. Its annual solar resources are roughly comparable to Alaska’s. Just about every single region in the continental United States has greater solar potential, on average, than Germany.

Yet despite those limitations, Germany has still managed to be the world leader in solar power. At the end of 2012, the country had installed about 30 gigawatts of solar capacity, providing between 3 percent and 10 percent of its electricity. The United States, by contrast, has somewhere around 6.4 gigawatts of solar capacity.

Why the difference? Policy is the big factor. The German government has heavily subsidized renewable energy for years through a variety of measures. Perhaps most crucially, the country’s “feed-in tariffs” allow ordinary people to install solar panels on their rooftops and sell the power to the grid at favorable rates. (The costs are then shared by all electricity users.)

Solar installations are also much cheaper in Germany — about half as cheap as they are in the United States. Partly that’s because the industry is bigger. But a recent reportfrom Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory discovered a bunch of smaller factors, too. Permitting is easier in Germany. And German solar installers spend less on marketing, inspections, and grid-connection fees. That all adds up.

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One Response to “CleanTechnica: Germany Has More Solar Power Because Everyone Wins”


  1. To expand on this very important post, we lived in Payson, AZ, where a solar installation was a sensible investment, albeit expensive. Now we live in Southern Oregon where despite good Summer sunshine figures, it doesn’t seem to make financial sense to put money into solar.

    On a strongly positive note, Pacific Power offer the option of buying all one’s power from renewable sources for a very small premium.


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