Solar Power Remains Popular in Germany, Despite Cost

EarthzineArticles, Earth Observation, Energy, Original, Sections

Solar panels on roofs in a typical Black Forest village. Image Credit: Osha Gray Davidson.

Solar panels on roofs in a typical Black Forest village. Image Credit: Osha Gray Davidson.

According to a new poll, 82 percent of Germans support the country’s transition to renewable energy, known as the Energiewende. The poll by the Federation of German Consumer Organizations (Verbraucherzentrale Bundesverband) found some discontent with some aspects of the project, however, particularly with the cost.

Some 52 percent of respondents called rising energy prices a disadvantage of the Energiewende. At $0.35 (U.S) per kilowatt hour (kWh), the price German consumers pay for electricity is among the highest in Europe. Danes pay the most ($0.40/kWh) and Bulgarians the least ($0.11/kWh).

Overall, the poll found that Germans are willing to pay more for electricity they consider safe (i.e., non-nuclear) and non-polluting. Part of the increased cost comes from a surcharge for renewable energy that is paid to individuals or groups that produce ‰ÛÏclean power‰Û and sell it to the grid. The program, called a Feed-in Tariff (FiT), has helped create a solar photovoltaic (PV) boom across Germany.

The installed capacity of PV (the theoretical maximum amount of electricity that could be produced if all solar panels were running at 100 percent capacity) in 2003 was less than half a gigawatt (GW). A decade later, that figure stands at 34 GW ‰ÛÒ and growing.

Actual solar power production across Germany can be seen in real time on a site run by German solar technology manufacturer, SMA.

‰ÛÏThe map is great as a way of showing how much solar power the country can produce,‰Û German-based energy writer Craig Morris tells Earthzine.

In the examples above, solar production peaked at 23.4 gigawatts (GW) in the early afternoon ‰ÛÒ about the same amount of electricity as 14 large nuclear power plants produce when running at full capacity.

Previous days’ maps can be viewed as animated graphics on the site.

Morris, author of ‰ÛÏEnergy Switch: Proven Solutions for a Renewable Future,‰Û a 2006 book about the German Energiewende, cautions that the map ‰ÛÏreflects the old way of thinking ‰ÛÒ trying to prove to doubters that we can get a lot of our power from solar.‰Û That may be important outside of Germany, where many people still question the basic practicality of renewable energy. Inside Germany, says Morris, the conversation needs to move ahead to a discussion about limits.

‰ÛÏGermany will increasingly need to start storing solar power,‰Û he says, and that means increased costs. Batteries are expensive ‰ÛÒ although storage technologies are growing cheaper all the time. Still, more needs to be done, says Morris.

‰ÛÏNew solar is cheaper than new nuclear,‰Û he adds, ‰ÛÏbut new solar plus storage is not. If we want to move forward, solar plus storage has to become competitive with fossil and nuclear power. We are not there yet, but we will get there.‰Û