Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Solar Power in Germany

We mentioned in an earlier post that we didn’t think Germany was a notably good locale for solar power. This snap judgment came due to our visits to Germany, where the sun was, at best, a fickle friend. But let Germany’s Economics and Technology Ministry tell you. Maybe we were wrong:

The solar industry is a new industrial sector in Germany which has seen enormous growth over the last number of years thanks to state support through the EEG. German solar technology turnover has risen within the last six years from around 450 million euros to some 4.9 billion euros.

Okay. But then, this gave a us a bit of pause

The number of people employed directly and indirectly in the industry had risen to around 50,000 in 2006 (source: German Federal Association of the Solar Industry (BSW), as of April 2007).

That seems rather low - Germany has about 82 million people - and here, they kind of agree with our first assessment, though for considerably less dumb reasons:

Although Germany's geographical position on the world map does not make it the ideal location for solar energy due to it only receiving moderate levels of solar radiation, it has become the largest solar thermal market in Europe, helped by the MAP. Germany takes second place only to Japan in the world in photovoltaic power generation.

Well, all right, though we admit we now wonder how close to wrong we were. We took a look at IEA’s stats. It’s a little behind – the last figures are for 2006 – but at least at at that time, solar was generating about .3% of Germany’s electricity or 2220 gWh. By contrast, nuclear energy produced 167,269 gWh and coal 302,297 gWh. (Wind was at 30,710 gWh.)

Now, in fairness, Germany passed a law specifically encouraging development of renewable energy sources. See here for an anecdotal account of Germany’s embrace of solar power.

We won’t rehash nuclear’s standing in Germany here – they’re liking it more since the last election - but we will mention that ramping down on nuclear, as has been discussed, would have a dual impact on the country. It would not only impact on its own people, but the IEA’s numbers show it would impact on its neighbors, too – Germany exports a lot of its nuclear-generated electricity.

But, as the ministry shows, solar has the, um, sun at its back, so we expect the low showing in 2006 has increased since then and will continue to do so. Also, Germany prides itself on its manufacturing capacity, so it may well be that solar energy will have a larger impact on Germany’s economy by exporting panels to sunnier climes – Spain, maybe, or Greece.

A solar array sitting atop a highway tunnel – see here for more. And hey!, what’s that in the background? Perhaps not – there was a plant in nearby Großwelzheim, but it closed in 1985.


SteveK9 said...

Solar has received massive subsidies from the German government, I believe in order to achieve the underwhelming result you quoted. To get a correct impression, the amount of funding from the general public needs to be determined. I think you will find your original assessment of the unsuitability of Germany for Solar power was correct. The only analysis I've seen (David MacKay) that would allow Europe to get large amounts of solar power is to build the arrays in North Africa and transmit the power back to Europe through DC HV lines. That has it's own political issues. The area needed would be 36,000 square miles.

Bill said...

Tom Blees has more recent data at — "Germany – crunched by the numbers". Manufacturing solar panels in Germany may make sense; installing them in Germany, not so much.