Can the United States Learn from Germany’s Solar Success?

7-15-2013 Can the United States Learn from Germany’s Solar Success?

The Germans are the first to admit their system isn’t perfect–they’re looking into ways to restructure it–but polls show that most Germans are happy with their country’s system, even if it means higher taxes for them. In terms of solar success, Germany leads the world in national solar output as a percentage of energy use.

The key reason for Germany’s success …it that, unlike the United States, it has a national energy policy. This makes for a unified political movement that supports renewable energy, generates solar jobs, and puts everyone in the country on a level playing field. Germany’s “feed-in tariff” system holds utilities accountable for allowing solar power onto their grids, and for buying extra power generated by consumers. The result is a European nation, with a burgeoning solar industry that is creating solar jobs with the goal of using 100 percent solar by 2050. That makes Arizona’s 15 percent by 2020 renewable portfolio standard look downright laughable.

Germany is on the same latitude as Maine. That’s nowhere near the latitude of Arizona, which gets more direct sunlight (insolation) than any other state including California, yet Germany leads the world in solar production with more than 17,000 MW. By contrast, the U.S. generates nearly 3,000 MW. So what’s Germany doing right that the U.S. isn’t, which could create thousands of solar jobs and get us energy independent?

The U.S. largely leaves solar policy, including solar jobs creation, up to individual states. This results in over 18,000 regional and state jurisdictions (according to the Department of Energy) putting two cents into how rooftop PV systems are handled. Not to mention, most utilities are investor-owned monopolies regulated by the state. If they want to keep profits up–and they do–they have to bet on population growth, and on demand for their traditional product remaining high. Installing solar jobs is a clear threat. Permitting can take awhile, and can get expensive.

Speaking of permitting, Germany pretty much has that streamlined. The process is more efficient than in, say, Tennessee, where one utility forces homeowners installing solar to have plans approved by the CEO, a board member, and the legal department of the local utility, which adds barriers and expense to the process.

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