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Germany breaks record for PV solar generated electricity

German worker assemblying finished solar modules
German worker assemblying finished solar modules
Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images

As many in the United States and in particular Pennsylvania remain focused on the belief that shale oil and gas will make the country energy independent over the next 15 to 20 years, Germany continues to post new electricity generation records from its countrywide PV solar installations. The latest available German Energy Ministry records available show that for July 2014, German PV solar installations generated 5.1 terawatt hours (TWh) of electricity from solar power, slightly more electricity production than the 5 TWh of electricity generated by the country’s installed wind turbines produced in January of this year. Such clean energy record production is largely the result of long term energy policy for renewables being created and fostered by the German government's Federal Ministry For Economic Affairs and Energy;

Germany continues to stand head and shoulders above all other countries for PV solar electricity. With a population of about 80 million people, Germany had at the end of 2012, an estimated 400 MW of solar power capacity per million people. In comparison, the United States ranked 20 in the world in PV solar electricity generation with an estimated 25 MW per million people. Germany has continue to defy critics who have been claiming for years now that PV solar is too small and too expensive as an electricity generating technology to matter in most countries. Thousands of rooftop solar installations continue to grow in Germany despite its less than optimal solar sun hour environment.

Rather than focus on regional or province installation incentives, Germany created a national feed in tariff policy at their federal government level. The policy was long term, placed payment production incentives on electricity generated and contained a realistic declining incentive scale as costs for PV solar installations and equipment declined due to increasing mass market acceptance. Germany’s current goal for electricity from renewable resources is 80% by 2050. This goal again outshines and is significantly more aggressive than most of such individual U.S. states goals which rarely rise above the single digits exception being California. An added benefit from such long term stable energy policy with aggressive production goals has resulted in Germany having significantly lower PV solar installation costs and less soft costs such as legal fees which tend to make U.S. installations more expensive.

Starting in 2013, the German Energy Ministry began offering incentives to include battery storage with all newly installed PV solar systems. Offering up to 30% of the cost of installing battery storage with PV solar, the program's aim is to increase the use of electricity made by PV solar systems in allowing the property owners to supply their electricity needs at night from the electricity stored in their batteries. In the first full year of the program, roughly 4000 German property owners elected to install battery storage when they installed a new PV solar system. Increasing the electricity needed for, "one's own self-consumption" as the Germans refer to it, further adds to the value of a PV solar system and with tens of thousands of installations now throughout the country, lessens the pressure to build more coal or nuclear plants. The program encourages research and development in newer battery technologies such as lithium ion and sodium nickel chloride while decreasing the cost of manufacturing.

Germany’s resolve to continue to move for a majority of their electricity production to come from renewable energy sources faces serious pressures. After the ongoing disasters of Japan’s Fukushima nuclear plant, the Merkel lead government in Germany announced the country would begin phasing out its nuclear industry, something nuclear operators and equipment suppliers are very leery of. Pressure from the oil and gas industry to explore Germany’s potential for shale oil and gas has been met with resistance from many corners in Germany given its legacy of environmental protections.

Continued PV solar development along with battery storage for self consumption has been and remain controversial and met with ongoing political headwinds. With the two major political parties now in power in the form of Socialist and Conservative parties, there is strong pressure from German's electrical utility industry to add fees designed to slow down PV solar installations with battery storage within the country. Borrowing from the U.S. electric utility industry, German electric utilities argue their costs continue to go up to operate a centralized electricity grid while a privileged few in the form of PV solar system owners can make and store their own electricity as paid for by others who cannot. Such arguments concerning transitioning from a centralized electricity utility grid to a decentralized one will no doubt continue to grow louder going forward.

In the United States, PV solar installations keep moving ahead in California and Arizona and to a lesser degree in New Jersey, New York and Massachusetts but remain static or under resourced in most U.S. states. With so much attention and claims having been made by the oil and gas industry that hydraulic fracking for shale oil and gas will create energy independence and a multitude of job creations by the industry, many elected state government officials are feeling the pressure to give into industry claims and begin fracking operations while largely discarding or ignoring the U.S. solar and wind industries. Pennsylvania's solar industry has literally withdrawn to a shadow of itself since 2010 when the hydraulic fracking boom began in the Marcellus Shale formation and state government would not renew or extend financial PV solar incentives.

The latest current information on U.S. PV solar installations can be found at the Solar Industries and Energy Association:

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