After years of building up enormous capacity, sunny spring weather this past week brought the country to record-breaking solar energy production – 22,000 megawatts (or 22 gigawatts) at noon on Friday, May 25, according to the International Economic Platform for Renewable Energies (IWR) in Münster.
This corresponds to the output of more than 20 nuclear power plants, the private solar consultancy said in a press release issued in German and run through Google translator. “There are currently no other countries on earth producing solar power with a capacity of over 20,000 MW of electricity,” IWR Director Norbert Allnoch said.
The allusion to nuclear power is apt as Germany, in the wake of the Fukushima disaster, vowed to shut down its nuclear power plants. One way Germany figures it can make up for the slack is with renewables – wind power and solar, primarily.
Last year the country reported producing enough power to supply 5.1 million German households. The country’s network of photovoltaic cells raised electricity output in 2011 by 60 per cent over 2010 to 18 billion kilowatt hours. That represents over 3 per cent of the national power grid. In fact, to give an indication of just how far ahead Germany’s solar industry has reached, the country produces more solar power in a month than the United States does in a year.
However, Germany’s rapid advance as a solar nation has been helped in large part by government subsidies. Solar farm operators and homeowners with solar panels on their roofs collected more than €8 billion ($10.4 billion) in handouts in 2011. These subsidies have led to German consumers having to pay the second-highest electricity prices in Europe.
Last year the German government cut its €100 billion ($130 billion) subsidy package to the solar industry. This, combined with the rise of the low-cost Chinese industry, has led to a string of solar companies declaring bankruptcy.