–>Update: You may also like “Fox News Fails BIG TIME On Solar Subsidies” and “10 Huge Lessons We’ve Learned From Germany’s Solar Power Success.“
Fox News astounds me. It’s like the Onion, except that it thinks it isn’t joking. I’ve seen a lot of crazy lines from the puppets over on Fox, but this week’s statements on solar may take the cake. On Fox & Friends this week, co-host Gretchen Carlson embarrassed herself again by claiming that the future for the fastest-growing US energy industry “looks dim.”
Reality Check: Solar just had a record-crushing year of installations and costs continue to fall fast. It has hit grid parity in Hawaii and parts of the Southwest. If subsidies for coal and natural gas were taken into account, it would surely have hit grid parity in many, many more regions by now. But even without a price on pollution and cut in fossil fuel subsidies, solar is projected to have an extremely bright future. Solar growth is expected to continue at a breakneck pace. And this is one key reason why nearly every major economy is making solar power investment a top priority — everyone wants to lead the world in this industry.
But let’s not get bogged down by reality, let’s get to the fun! Beyond the dim-witted claim by Ms Carlson, the statements by Fox Business reporter (and apparent solar expert) Shibani Joshi are what took the day. They’re also the kind of statements that make the rest of the world think the US is full of morons who don’t know anything about geography. Ms Joshi commented (and apparently not in joking way) that Germany is “a smaller country, and they’ve got lots of sun. Right? They’ve got a lot more sun than we do.” Ummm….
Going on: “The problem is it’s a cloudy day and it’s raining, you’re not gonna have it. In California, it’s a great solution, but here on the East Coast it’s just not going to work.”
The US Southwest has some of the best solar resources in the world, which Ms Joshi didn’t quite seem to know. The US, as a whole, is significantly more solar endowed than Germany. When it comes to sunshine, Germany doesn’t have anything on the US. I’ve lived in Poland for about 4.5 years. Poland, right next door to Germany, is extremely similar in respect to sunshine and climate. The hardest thing for me living here is probably how dark and grey it is. It’s a world of difference from basically the entire US (if you remove Alaska — and hey, even Alaska has a better solar profile than Germany). But you don’t have to take my word for it. Take a look at this solar resources map from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL):
I could go on and on about this hilarious joke (tragic comedy, I guess, given that it wasn’t a joke and probably influenced a few million people). However, let’s get to the crux of the matter — the differences between Germany and the US when it comes to solar power and solar policy.
For some perspective, here are a few standout stats to put Germany’s solar capacity into perspective:
- In 2011, Germany had over 80 times more peak solar power compared to electricity demand than the US.
- Germany has over 57 times more solar power per capita than the “Sunshine State,” my home state of Florida.
- Germany has over 21 times more solar power per capita than the US.
- Germany has over 39 times more solar power relative to electricity production than the US.
- Germany has about 24 times more solar power per GDP than the US.
Furthermore, these disparities are sure to have grown in the past year. While the US has installed a tremendous amount more solar power in the past year, Germany has installed an even greater amount… and still has less electricity demand, less electricity production, less GDP, and fewer residents.
So, let’s get back to the question Fox & Friends started with — why does Germany have so much more solar power? Luckily, this is a topic CleanTechnica has covered many times. There are a few key reasons (which are quite interrelated):
- Germany installs solar power for about half the cost the US installs solar power.
- Germans get much more profit out of their solar power systems than Americans.
- Germans install solar systems much more quickly than Americans.
The next question, naturally, is why there are the above differences. Solar panels themselves are a global commodity, the prices are essentially the same all across the world.
The thing is, due to Germany’s better solar policies, permitting is much cheaper in Germany, and achieving a permit to install a solar system is much quicker. Also, due to the country’s feed-in tariff (a simple policy that requires utilities pay solar power producers of any size a set rate for the electricity they generate), greater financial benefits are available to the common household and more residents have seen the value in installing solar.
With greater market penetration, a much simpler government incentive, and faster installation times, customer acquisition costs are much lower than in the US, supply chain costs are much lower, labor is much cheaper, and overhead costs are much lower.
In other words, despite Germany’s much more limited solar resources, it is kicking our butts in solar power installations because it has implemented a simple policy that rewards residents and businesses for using their rooftops to improve the world. But hey, if you just came here for a quick laugh, here’s the video of Fox & Friends‘ illuminating chat: