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Posts tagged "germany"

When it comes to available solar resources, Germany is nowhere near the top compared to all countries in the world. Yet Germany has installed far more solar energy than any other country with 4.5 times more than second place Spain and 6.6 times more than the United States.

As a proud resident of sunny Arizona — a leader in domestic solar installation — I want solar revenge.

While I admire Germany’s accomplishments in adopting cheap, clean energy, my competitive spirit would rather see Americans surpass Germany and take our rightful place as the solar world record holder.

But Germany utilized a secret weapon in order to achieve its first place spot in solar energy adoption — one that the U.S. has yet to commit to. That weapon is a public policy known as a Feed-in-Tariff (FIT). 

FIT is a public policy that pays owners of solar electric systems a premium for the energy they produce. But FIT wasn’t developed by Germans — the policy was actually invented in the U.S. when President Jimmy Carter created the National Energy Act in 1978.  Still, in 1990, Germany adopted “Stromeinspeisungsgesetz” (StrEG), or its “Law on Feeding Electricity into the Grid.” StrEG was a FIT program that has been credited with creating the modern renewable energy industry. In fact, it has created a huge new industry in Germany that employs 340,000 people with an annual budget of 8.7 billion euros — more than $11 billion.

Germany’s FIT program consists of paying renewable energy adopters a premium price for energy generated by solar and wind. Funding for these premiums comes from rate payers, who were naturally initially skeptical, but whose concerns took a backseat to the opportunity for their country to be energy independent.

The German plan was to set the premium at a high level initially, so as to attract investors, but to watch the price decline as competition increased and economies of scale took over, eliminating the need for premiums. That is exactly what’s happening.

Since 2006, Germany has reduced FIT in a series of steps, reducing the incentives 5-15 percent with each step. Still, every time a new reduction is announced, German media sources announce the death of solar energy. And each time they’ve been wrong.

Not only has the German renewable energy industry survived incentive reductions, it has grown with each one! FIT incentives in 2012 will be less than 40 percent of those from 2006. Yet the amount of installed renewable energy has grown by a factor of 8.3 since then.

Complete elimination of incentives for renewable energy in Germany is in sight. The country’s energy policy has already produced lower energy costs, cleaner air, smaller energy imports, higher energy security, more competitive German industries and the huge new German solar industry.  

Another important aspect of Germany’s solar miracle is that most of the solar energy capacity is owned by German citizens. Paul Gipe of Wind-Works reports that 51 percent of all renewable energy in Germany is owned by individual citizens or farms, totaling $100 billion worth of private investments in clean energy. 

When it comes to energy independence, Germany has shown that public policy and political courage are more important than resources. Some states and local governments have stepped up and adopted Germany’s proven policy. After all, it was the U.S. that invented FIT and then quickly abandoned it.

I’d bet that the U.S. will soon readopt Germany’s FIT policy, either as a result of its clear functionality or out of economic necessity. Let’s hope it’s the former.

Solar Coach Corner is a weekly column by Arizona SmartPower’s Solar Coach. These posts will go up every Tuesday and are meant to spark conversation about clean energy and energy efficiency topics, so join in by submitting your own comments below!

U.S. homeowners looking to save money with solar energy may find that the road to residential solar energy has a steep learning curve and is filled with potholes, detours and wrong turns. Fortunately, a solar roadmap has been constructed by reliable sources.

Check out this map to find solar mile markers in your state: http://www.dsireusa.org/

North Carolina State University maintains the above website, which provides a comprehensive database of solar information for all U.S. states and territories. The database contains information about solar rules, regulations and policies for each state. Perhaps the most helpful aspect of the website is the list of incentives available for residential solar energy.

All U.S. taxpayers can take advantage of the 30 percent Federal Tax Credit for residential solar electricity. The N.C. State roadmap provides a list of financial incentives specific to each electric utility. These incentives are usually in the form of tax credits, utility rebates and financial incentives from cities and local governments. Some states provide “performance based incentives” such as feed-in tariffs. With feed-in tariffs, homeowners receive a premium price for electricity generated from renewable sources.

Germany has used such tariffs to become the world leader in solar energy: http://rredc.nrel.gov/solar/calculators/PVWATTS/version1/

The U.S. National Renewable Energy Lab maintains a website, PV Watts, which provides a Performance Calculator for Grid Connected PV Systems. This website can be used to predict the amount of electricity produced by a solar electric system for every U.S. geographical location based on the solar system size and installation criteria.

Homeowners can use this website to provide an independent estimate when considering installation of a solar electric system.

Homeowners need not be intimidated when considering an investment in solar energy. There are so many reliable data resources that can be used to evaluate costs and benefits of solar. Homeowners familiar with information from these sources can proceed with confidence when talking with solar energy providers for their homes. 

If you are considering solar and have additional questions, please contact me, your Solar Coach, at dbacon[at]smartpower.org.

Solar Coach Corner is a weekly column by Arizona SmartPower’s Solar Coach. These posts will go up every Tuesday and are meant to spark conversation about clean energy and energy efficiency topics, so join in by submitting your own comments below!

The media frequently reports that solar energy makes up a small fraction of current U.S. electric power production. That information might lead readers to conclude that solar electricity will remain a small source of electrical energy, but that conclusion would be wildly wrong!

The chart below tells the other side of the story — that the solar industry has witnessed exponential growth over the last decade, promising a future of clean energy generation. 

Utility-scale solar plants are about to become common sights across the U.S. The Solar Energy Industries Association recently published the following facts on solar electric power plants in the U.S.:

  • Solar Power Plants in Operation: 924
  • Solar Power Plants Under Construction: 2,459
  • Solar Power Plants Under Development: 26,918

Total: 31,359 Utility-Scale Solar Electricity Generating Plants in the U.S.

While total production capacity for many of these plants is not yet available, the individual plant capacities vary from 1 megawatt to 5,000 megawatts. The desert Southwest has a large share of these solar plants, but the projects are distributed across 25 states.

Readers might be surprised that Germany is still the country with the most solar energy production, which demonstrates that solar energy is viable, even at high latitudes. That explains why Vermont has four solar plants in the works.

But the decreasing cost of solar is the real key to its increased viability.

Bloomberg reports that the price of solar-grade polysilicon has decreased 93 percent from $475 per kilogram in 2008 to $33 per kilogram in 2011. That dramatic decrease in the price of solar grade polysilicon makes solar electricity more attractive and viable. And contrary to popular opinion, much of that polysilicon is produced in the U.S.

Companies such as MEMC, Wacker, REC and Hemlock have major domestic solar silicon production facilities. Dow Chemical will add to that total with a large polysilicon manufacturing facility in Clarksville, Tennessee, scheduled to open in 2012.

The possibility of seeing utility-scale solar plants near your home becomes more likely every day. Unlike other sources of electric power, solar plants will not pollute the air, land and water, as polysilicon solar electric panels contain no toxic materials and are totally recyclable. I think we’ll soon see people moving from the not-in-my-backyard mentality of past power generation techniques to the please-put-it-in-my-backyard mentality of our future solar power generation.