Wired News :Germany Embraces the Sun
Mon, 9 Jul 2001 09:33:28 -0700 (PDT)
A note from bc:
solar as public policy...
From Wired News, available online at:
Germany Embraces the Sun
By Reiner Gaertner
2:00 a.m. July 9, 2001 PDT
FREIBURG, Germany -- Germany is not necessarily known as the sunniest
spot in Europe. But nowhere else do so many people climb on their roofs to install solar panels.
Since the introduction of the Renewable Energies Laws (EEG) in April
last year, Germany has been experiencing a remarkable boom in solar energy.
"When my cab driver gives me a lecture about solar technologies, I
know I am back home," raved Rian van Staden, executive director of the International Solar Energy Society (ISES) about Freiburg, the sunniest city in Germany and host to the InterSolar conference July 6-8.
The little university town in southwest Germany, about 40 miles away
from the French and Swiss borders, is Germany’s "Solar Valley."
A gigantic solar panel at the train station greets visitors to
Freiburg. The city also boasts the new Zero Emissions Hotel Victoria, which is the first European hotel to run completely on alternative energy sources. Even Freiburg's premier league soccer stadium is solar powered.
More than 450 environmentally oriented companies and institutions take
advantage of the favorable weather, research, networking opportunities and progressive political climate in Freiburg, which makes even Berkeley -- its soul mate in the San Francisco Bay Area -- look comparatively conservative.
The German solar industry has exploded in the last two years. DFS
(Deutscher Fachverband Solarenergie), the German Association for Solar Energies, recently reported a 50 percent rise in solar panel orders during 2000.
German solar companies sold 75,000 solar systems in 2000 in addition
to 360,000 solar systems installed previously, and photovoltaic installations increased fourfold from 1999.
Solar power means big business in Germany: Solar companies generated
revenues of $435 million in 2000. According to DFS, Germany -- with its 54 percent market share -- is by far the European leader in produced solar collectors.
The trade show floors at InterSolar also demonstrate the increasing
maturity of the industry. While a few years ago so-called "Ökos" (German shorthand for ecologically minded types) or "Müslies" (Musli eaters) in Birkenstock sandals and "suspiciously long" hair flocked to the conferences.
This time, the Ökos are swept aside by determined-looking business
people in blue suits, Palm Pilots in hand, who squeeze into the conference's three halls, already packed to the gills with 240 exhibitors and more than 13,000 visitors in three days.
It was not fear of power outages, high gas prices or tripled power
bills, but economic incentives that jump-started the solar revolution in Germany.
Last year in April, the Social-Democratic/Green German government
introduced the Renewable Energy Act (EEG) to boost the planned switch to renewable energy sources. Producers of renewable energy get 43 cents for each kWh (kilowatt per hour) of solar power generated and 7 cents per kWh of wind energy generated.
Since June, even producers of biomass energy -- usually "waste
products" from farms like grass and wood -- are allowed to sell up to 9 cents per kWh of generated energy.
"The beauty of this law is that costs of these incentives are not tied
to any budget, but distributed and added to regular power prices," explained Uwe Hartmann, vice president of DGS, the German section of the International Solar Energy Society (ISES).
"Consumers feel such an increase of maybe a tenth of a cent at most as
white noise, but it really helped to start the boom," added Hartmann.
Another program, initiated by the German government is also gaining
momentum: the "100,000 roofs" initiative. Consumers get low-interest credits to finance solar panels for their roofs. By 2003, Germany intends to have given subsidies to more than 100,000 private homes with photovoltaic systems.
The initiative had a slow start, but not due to any lack of interest
on the part of consumers.
"More than 10,000 customers already registered before the start of the
initiative. The government was completely overwhelmed by this response and had to stop the initiative for about three months," said Hartmann. In 2001 alone, solar systems with a total power capacity of 65 megawatts will be subsidized.
Excited by recent developments, some are even looking beyond 2003: "We
should start discussing a one-million-roof initiative," urged Philippe de Renzy-Martin with Shell Solar BV at a competing solar conference in Berlin in early June.
Producers of solar panels are desperately trying to meet demands.
"We are completely sold out. We grow about 50 percent each year, but
even such an expansion is not enough to meet such a demand," said Jörn Jürgens, product manager with AstroPower in Newark, Delaware, the only U.S. company present at InterSolar.
A couple of years ago, all German "Solarfabriks" (solar factories)
closed their doors. But now they are back. More than seven solar panel-producing companies have opened, and German British Petrol and BP Solar have just announced they will build another Solarfabrik with an annual capacity of 20 megawatts.
Van Staden summarized the current atmosphere in Germany: "Solar is hip
in Germany. People are not just in it to save money, they really believe in alternative energies with their hearts and are willing to jump in head first."
At least in Freiburg this way of thinking is prevalent. After all,
what other city has a Solar Café?
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