According to Treehugger, Germany just broke a world record for the amount of solar electricity produced in one day. On Saturday May 26, Germany fed 22 gigawatts (22 billion watts) of solar power into the nation’s electrical grid, meeting 50% of the country’s electrical needs. That’s right, half of Germany was powered by solar power for the day. For me, this achievement is important because it demonstrates that solar power is a viable option for an alternative source of energy.
After the Fukushima disaster in Japan, Germany vowed to shut down all of its nuclear power plants and to replace nuclear power with more renewable energy sources. And that’s exactly what they’re doing. How? It’s primarily because they have put in place a “feed-in-tariff” (FIT) system. Essentially, utility providers must purchase solar power from its producers at a fixed rate. So, whether the producer is a large conglomerate or a small start-up, they are paid the same amount per unit of solar energy produced. This method encourages even small producers to purchase solar equipment and start feeding power into the grid because they can effectively compete with larger producers.
Removing many economies of scale and taking the competitive nature out of the pricing does increase solar energy prices slightly. But, Germans are willing to pay a bit more each month for clean, non-nuclear energy. Good for them! A sustainable, cleaner future seems worth a few extra euros per month to me. A recent study shows that most Americans would be willing to pay a bit more for clean energy as well.
Interestingly enough, we wouldn’t need to pay more for solar energy if we reallocated some of the energy subsidies that are currently handed out. Treehugger links to an amazing infographic in its article. Some quick facts:
- Over the last five years, American taxpayers have paid $72 billion in fossil fuel subsidies. They have paid just $1 billion in solar subsidies.
- If solar power received the same subsidies as fossil fuels, solar energy would be less expensive than energy derived from fossil fuels.
- Germany produces 6,000% more solar power than the United States, even though the United States gets 3,900% more sun than Germany (so think how much solar power we could produce!).
We have the potential to produce an extremely large amount of solar power. Solar technology has been improving dramatically (I hope to post soon all about how solar power works and how it has evolved), and our country receives enough sun on a regular basis to provide a consistent source of energy. But, our government still favors fossil fuels. As long as coal, oil, and natural gas are receiving a majority of the nation’s energy subsidies (making their prices unnaturally low), it will be difficult for alternative energy sources to compete. I truly hope that we can follow Germany’s example here and start to embrace a more sustainable energy future.