Germany broke a world record (again) when its solar energy plants produced 22 gigawatts (GW) of electricity per hour in the first weekend of June, which is as much as 20 nuclear power plants running at full capacity. That was enough to power the national grid to meet a third of the country’s electricity needs on Friday and about half of on Saturday.
Nowhere has that much photovoltaic power ever been produced. This is an impressive feat seeing as how Germany isn’t exactly a lightweight industrial country, and so its energy requirements are not insubstantial. Also, Germany isn’t even known for having a lot of sun, and yet it’s installed solar power generation capacity is about as much as the rest of the world’s combined.
How is Germany doing it?
Even on days that world records aren’t being broken, Germany still gets 20% of its overall annual electricity from renewable sources. In the north, wind farms are now characteristic of many regions. In the south, which is richer in sunlight, solar panels cover the roofs of whole towns. Bright yellow fields indicate the growth of rapeseed, which is used for producing biodiesel. And off-shore wind turbines will soon become another common source of power.
Germany got on board early on to make itself sustainable. Back in 2008 when America was still deciding whether this sustainability issue was something worth pursuing, Germany was already supplying about 15% of its energy requirements from photovoltaic power.
The German government gives a lot of support for investing in renewable energy, which has helped the country became a world leader in this area. Since the 90’s, the Renewable Energy Sources Act has resulted in the investment of billions of Euros for green power projects. The law guarantees that each kilowatt hour of green electricity is fed into the grid and bought at a good statutory rate by operators, which is considerably higher than normal electricity prices. This is guaranteed for a 20 year period.
Germany’s green vision
Germany has made a sustainable future a serious goal, and a reality. To do so has required some difficult decisions. After the Fukushima nuclear disaster, German chancellor Angela Merkel surprised governments with her plans to radically cut down the use of coal, speed up approvals for renewable energy investments, and severely reduce CO2 emissions. Oh, and to become completely nuclear energy-free by 2022, beginning by immediately shutting down eight plants. That energy would of course be replaced by renewable energy sources such as wind energy, solar power and biomass.
“We want to end the use of nuclear energy and reach the age of renewable energy as fast as possible,” Merkel announced.
The plan is to double the share of renewable energy to 35% of consumption in 2020, 50% in 2030, 65% in 2040, and more than 80% in 2050. Also, to reduce CO2 emissions by 40% in 2020, by 55% in 2030, and by more than 80% in 2050.
Compare this to in the U.S. where President Obama is helping the nuclear industry build more reactors and Republicans are trying to block measures to reduce CO2 emissions.