Why Solar Works in Germany

Germany is a solar powerhouse. But why is it so much better than say, Arizona?

In the first half of 2014, Germany generated nearly a third of its electricity from renewable energy sources. Together, solar and wind made up 17 percent, and the number of solar power plants increased total production by 28 percent compared to 2013. How do they do it, and why does the U.S. still fall behind in terms of total renewable energy production?

Germany’s “Energiewende”

Germany has long been known for its focus on environmentally friendly practices. Its goal as a country has been to transform its energy sources — also known as Energiewende — and power itself almost entirely on renewable sources by 2050.

To accomplish this feat, they’ve installed a huge number of solar power systems, setting records. In fact, by 2012, Germany had installed more solar power per capita than any other nation. And this is in a country famous for gray and cloudy skies! This cultural decision to go green, it’s helping Germans slowly stop using natural gas and oil imports, relying on its own power sources.

German Solar Policies

This solar PV growth didn’t happen all on its own, though. The country’s feed-in tariff (FIT) pays renewable energy producers for the electricity they produce, which is part of why there has been a boom in solar power. There’s a FIT surcharge on consumers, but it’s raised the retail price of electricity while lowering wholesale prices, which will be passed down to households soon. Consumers also have the choice to earn back payments and more by investing in solar and other renewables. Everyone owns the renewable resources, instead of just corporations or private homes. While there have been some flaws in this system, overall it’s worked well for Germany.

So what does this mean for the U.S.? Regulatory frameworks do help bolster solar installations. It’s been proof through tax credits and rebates, but with more policies that encourage solar manufacturing and selling of residential systems, the future of solar in the U.S. could shine even brighter.

Wait a minute! I thought Germany was always overcast?

Ok, so if you’ve ever been to continental Europe you know what the weather is like: cloudy with a chance of showers.

But the truth is, solar panels can be even more efficient and have higher output in cloudy weather than in blazing sun.

The truth is, as long as the panels aren’t hit by full shade, e.g. a tree or some kind of debris is physically covering them, they’re going to produce power.

For more information on this: Do Clouds Really Affect Solar Panel Output?

What are your thoughts on solar in Germany versus the U.S.?

Image Credit: André Karwath at Wikimedia under a Creative Commons license

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