Solar Power in Germany

Via the LocalGermany produces half of energy with solar

Analysis from the Fraunhofer ISE research institute showed solar panels in Germany generated a record 24.24 GW of electricity between 1pm and 2pm on Friday, June 6th.

And on Monday June 9th, which was a national holiday, solar power production peaked at 23.1 GW, which equalled 50.6 percent of total electricity demand – setting another milestone.

The week was unusually hot with highs of 37C and Rothacher put the record down to the warm weather and the fact it was a public holiday.

But he added: “I think we could break a new record every two to three months now. We are installing more and more PVs [solar panels].”

The success of Germany’s solar production lies with encouraging people to install them on their roof tops rather than building huge solar farms. Rothacher said 90 percent of solar panels in Germany were on individuals’ roofs.

These are quite stunning numbers given that skeptics in the US frequently state that solar is not a viable option for US energy needs.  It is further noteworthy given that Germany is not a sunny as the US in the aggregate.  Indeed, when I was vacationing earlier this month in Nevada and Utah, I had the passing thought that surely solar power could be better utilized in those areas.

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Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter


  1. Ron Beasley says:

    This is amazing , I lived in Munich for several years and it is in Southern Germany and is at about the same latitude as Vancouver BC. It is very dark in the winter. Solar panels are economically competitive with coal in the US but are being fought by utilities because it decentralizes power production and makes their infrastructure increasingly irrelevant. Here in the Portland area the high end “Street Of Dreams” features a home that will be entirely self dependent when it comes to electricity, although there is an upfront cost it is estimated that the ROI will be about 7 years . If Germany can do it the US should be able to do it even better. The fossil fuel industry will fight itbut we can’t let them win.

  2. Rick DeMent says:

    Deriding solar as even a worthwhile part of a much larger energy mix has become a cultural signaling mechanistic for the easily grifted.

  3. wr says:

    Yes, but Solyndra!

    That proves we need to keep throwing money at the oil companies. Because you know, Solyndra!!!!!!!

    (Hint: It rhymes with Benghazi…)

  4. Mu says:

    Nice numbers, utterly meaningless. It’s great that you can produce 50% of your electricity from solar at peak, too bad that still means you have to have 100% of your capacity in power stations in case the weather is bad. And having half of them at idle doesn’t mean you safe 50% of the fuel, or any of the other operating cost. Solar will only become a useful component of our total energy supply if we find a way to store the energy reliably and efficiently to output a predictable amount all the time.

  5. Franklin says:

    I think Mu exaggerates to say this is meaningless. Even if you still have to have the capacity during the dead of night (actually you don’t), there’s a whole lot less pollution being produced in the middle of the day. That’s actually important.

    But it’s true, we need to be able to store more energy more cheaply to make it the gains even better.

  6. gVOR08 says:

    @Franklin: Yes. Per Wiki Germany is getting 30% of total power from biomass, 3.5% from hydro, a small contribution from geothermal, and about 10% from wind. All of which work at night. Storage is the big issue, but in the meantime we and the Germans can afford a fair amount of redundant capacity to realize the conventional pollution, carbon, and geopolitical benefits of reduced hydrocarbon usage.

  7. rudderpedals says:

    They’re doing this in high northern latitudes and it still works. Texas and Florida’s high incidence angle would be even better. The updraft bumpiness from small terrain color differences over Florida puttering in a little airplane below 3,000′ suggests there’s a tremendous amount of energy that’s being lost to heat or worse, baking brown and black rooftops adding to the air conditioning load.

    Incidentally there are zero useful energy conservation programs in FPL coverage areas.

  8. anjin-san says:

    We should have our solar install done sometime in July. Our roof is partially shaded by some large trees in the front yard, so it’s not an ideal site. In spite of that, we are projected to offset 67% of our electric use, and we should be putting power back into the grid at some points as well.

    Cost to me for equipment is zero, and the bill is projected to go down $45 a month. Seems like a pretty big win. It’s remarkable what a good job the right wing noise machine has done conditioning people to reflexively reject solar. Well, it makes so much sense it really has no place in the life of the modern conservative.

    Meanwhile, other countries surpass us. Again.

  9. Hal_10000 says:

    Mu has a point. Germany’s CO2 emissions *rose* last year. That’s partly because they are phasing out nuclear. But it’s also because, in winter or in cloudy times, you have to use fossil fuels as backup. And the CO2 per unit energy goes way up when you’re having to constantly cycle plants up and down as demand waxes and wanes.

    (On another point, it’s not clear that biomass gains you that much in greenhouse gas emissions. It may, in fact, be a net negative because of changes in land use and the energy that has to be put into making it. )

    Not saying this isn’t a good thing, but let’s not get carried away. This is still a marginal impact on greenhouse gas emissions. And it will continue to be until we develop technology to either store energy and/or transport it very efficiently over long distances.

  10. Tillman says:

    @Hal_10000: If more adopt solar, there will be more demand for these efficient storages/transports, creating incentives for investment. Waiting for the efficient storage before attempting conversion would part the cart before the horse.

  11. anjin-san says:
  12. anjin-san says:

    And the CO2 per unit energy goes way up when you’re having to constantly cycle plants up and down as demand waxes and wanes.

    Is there some documentation for this?

  13. Mikey says:

    @Hal_10000: Late last year Germany approved a 745 megawatt coal-burning power plant, the first such approval in eight years. That certainly won’t help.

  14. John Peabody says:

    Smaller units at the residence level would surely work. But the idea of the solar-abundant Great American Southwest saving the country’s energy needs falls down pretty quickly at transmitting all the power with subsequent loss of energy.

  15. Mu says:

    @anjin-san: direct consequence of the Carnot efficiency that depends on the ratio of hot and cold reservoir, the smaller the difference the more inefficient the cycle operates. With other words, any conventional boiler operated power station operates at peak efficiency at maximum operating temperature.

  16. @John Peabody: Yes, but even if it simply helped that region of the country, the net effect would be quite positive, would it not?

    And, one would think that if there was a serious move to utilize all that solar energy in that part of the country that it would help drive innovation.

    I fully understand that it is not a magic bullet, but the German experience radically undercuts the prevailing skeptical view in much of the US that solar cannot be a major component of our energy needs.

  17. Tyrell says:

    @Ron Beasley: Our development and many others have restrictions concerning solar panels. And clotheslines.
    Solar panels do require some upkeep, including cleaning as dirt, sand, and dust can lower efficiency. After time, cells deteriorate and have to be replaced.

  18. anjin-san says:

    @ Mu

    I asked for some data showing that “the CO2 per unit energy goes way up”, not a confirmation that there are efficiently losses as a result of cycling up and down, that is rather obvious.

    “way up” is so vague as to be meaningless. Traditional energy suppliers are very good at gaming the system and blunting the charge of emerging technologies that offer competition. We have seen a lot of completely bogus arguments against solar (and some of those are taken as gospel on the right) – If I am being told that solar is actually a driver of pollution, well, show me the numbers.

  19. anjin-san says:

    @ Tyrell

    Solar panels do require some upkeep, including cleaning as dirt, sand, and dust can lower efficiency. After time, cells deteriorate and have to be replaced.

    What is your point? Show me a technology that does not require upkeep, lose efficiency over time, etc…

  20. wr says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: No, no, no. Clearly you don’t understand. Unless solar power completely solves all our energy problems immediately, then there is absolutely no point in using it for anything. If there is a single atom of carbon emitted anywhere in the world, then any investment in solar power is a total waste — and probably a fraud.

    That, at least, is what I have learned from the right-wingers here today.

  21. wr says:

    @Tyrell: “Solar panels do require some upkeep, including cleaning as dirt, sand, and dust can lower efficiency.”

    Wait — you mean that completely unlike every other object ever fabricated by mankind, solar panels occasionally need upkeep — including minor cleaning?

    Why hasn’t this monstrosity been outlawed yet?

  22. anjin-san says:

    @ wr

    The dust thing is a deal breaker, we should probably just ban solar.