Solar accounted for a monthly record 4 terawatt-hours (TWh) of electricity in Germany in May, about 10 percent of the electricity the country used and 40 percent more solar power than was generated in May 2011. But was it too much of a good thing?
The report from the Federal Association of Energy and Water (BDEW) on Friday attributed the big total to sunny weather and the country’s expansion of solar capacity over the past year. In 2011 alone, Germany added 7.5 gigawatts (GW) of capacity, around four times the 1.9 GW the United States installed in 2011.
The record-shattering May total is immense and impressive but not quite the stunner it might have been after the news last week that solar generation in Germany peaked at a record 22 GW around noontime on May 25. The new report, however, provided a broader look at Germany’s solar power picture, and added insight into wind power production as well — and it highlighted the growing-pains the country is experiencing in its speedy transition to renewables.
According to the BDEW, through the first five months of the year Germany generated 10.5 TWh of solar power, a 38 percent increase over the first five months of 2011. But while solar power production topped wind power production in May 2012 – 4 TWh to 2.9 TWh – in the January-May period wind power production was 22 TWh, more than twice what solar put out.
As remarkable and admirable as these achievements are, Germany is now struggling a bit to find a clear path forward on its energy policy.
Its solar manufacturing sector is struggling with overcapacity in the face of weaker European subsidies and demand growth — Q-Cells in April became the fourth German solar company to file for bankruptcy this year, joining Solar Millennium, Solon and Solarhybrid.
Meanwhile, the subsidies that have driven the ramp-up in solar installation have become the subject of a big political battle, with the Merkel government trying to slash feed-in tariffs – which had already been trimmed by 50 percent over the past three years – by an additional 20 to 40 percent.