Germany Runs Half the Country on Solar Power

During a spell of extremely sunny weather, – on Saturday, May 26 — the solar-energy record by sourcing nearly 50 percent of its daytime electricity needs from sunshine.  According to Germany’s Institute of the Renewable Energy Industry (IWR), solar power plants produced an unprecedented 22 gigawatts of electricity, approximately the same amount generated by 20 nuclear power stations operating at full capacity.  Even on days when it’s not setting records, Germany has formidable solar numbers.  On Friday, May 25, while its citizens were at work and its power-hungry factories were running, one-third of Germany’s power was produced by solar plants.  The German government plans to move to 100 percent renewable energy by 2022.

Germany decided to abandon nuclear power after the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster, closing eight plants immediately.  They will be replaced by renewable energy sources such as wind turbines, solar and bio-mass.

“Never before anywhere has a country produced as much photovoltaic electricity,” said Norbert Allnoch, IWR director.  “Germany came close to the 20 gigawatt (GW) mark a few times in recent weeks.  But this was the first time we made it over.”  Germany has nearly as much installed solar-power generation capacity as the rest of the world combined and gets nearly four percent of its annual electricity needs from the sun alone.  Its goal is to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent from 1990 levels by 2020.

According to critics, renewable energy is not reliable enough nor is there enough capacity to power major industrial nations like Germany.  Chancellor Angela Merkel disagrees, noting that Germany is eager to demonstrate that is indeed possible.  The jump above the 20 GW level was due to increased capacity and bright sunshine nationwide.

Government-mandated support for renewables has helped Germany became a world leader in renewable energy.  The incentives provided through the state-mandated feed-in-tariff (Fit) are not without controversy, however. The tariff is the main support for the industry until photovoltaic prices fall further to levels similar for conventional power production.

Utilities and consumer groups have complained the tariffs for solar power adds about two cents per kW/h on top of electricity prices in Germany that are already among the highest in the world, with consumers paying about 23 cents kW/h, compared to New York, which pays 17.50 cents KW/h or Phoenix at 9.9 cents kW/h.  German consumers pay about €4 billion per year on top of their electricity bills for solar power, according to a 2012 report by the country’s environment ministry.  Critics also complain that employing increasing levels of solar power makes the national grid less stable due to fluctuations in output since Germany is not renowned for its sunny climate.