Clean Power

Published on February 9th, 2013 | by John Farrell


Germany Has More Solar Power Because Everyone Wins

February 9th, 2013 by  

Suddenly everyone knows about Germany’s solar power dominance because Fox Newsheads made an ass of themselves, suggesting that the country is a sunny, tropical paradise. Most media folks have figured out that there are some monster differences in policy (e.g. a feed-in tariff), but then latch on to the “Germans pay a lot extra” meme. Germans do, and are perfectly happy with it, but that’s still not the story.

The real reason Germany dominates in solar (and wind) is their commitment to democratizing energy.

Half of their renewable power is owned by ordinary Germans, because that wonky-sounding feed-in tariff (often known as a CLEAN Contract Program in America) makes it ridiculously simple and safe for someone to park their money in solar panels on their roof instead of making pennies in interest at the bank.

–>Update: You may also like “10 Huge Lessons We’ve Learned From Germany’s Solar Power Success.”

It also makes their “energy change” movement politically bulletproof. Germans aren’t tree-hugging wackos giving up double mochas for wind turbines — they are investing by the tens of thousand in a clean energy future that is putting money back in their pockets and creating well over 300,000 new jobs (at last count).  Their policy makes solar cost half as much to install as it does in America, where the free market’s red tape can’t compete with their “socialist” efficiency.

Fox News’ gaffe about sunshine helps others paper over the real tragedy of American energy policy. In a country founded on the concept of self-reliance (goodbye, tea imports!), we finance clean energy with tax credits that make wind and solar reliant on Wall Street instead of Main Street. We largely preclude participation by the ordinary citizen unless they give up ownership of their renewable energy system to a leasing company. We make clean energy a complicated alternative to business as usual, while the cloudy, windless Germans make the energy system of the future by making it stupid easy and financially rewarding.

I’m all for pounding the faithless fools of Fox, but let’s learn the real secret to German energy engineering and start making democratic energy in America.

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About the Author

directs the Democratic Energy program at ILSR and he focuses on energy policy developments that best expand the benefits of local ownership and dispersed generation of renewable energy. His seminal paper, Democratizing the Electricity System, describes how to blast the roadblocks to distributed renewable energy generation, and how such small-scale renewable energy projects are the key to the biggest strides in renewable energy development.   Farrell also authored the landmark report Energy Self-Reliant States, which serves as the definitive energy atlas for the United States, detailing the state-by-state renewable electricity generation potential. Farrell regularly provides discussion and analysis of distributed renewable energy policy on his blog, Energy Self-Reliant States (, and articles are regularly syndicated on Grist and Renewable Energy World.   John Farrell can also be found on Twitter @johnffarrell, or at

  • roncastle

    It’s not news, it’s FOX!

    • Bob_Wallace

      It’s not information, it’s Murdoch!

  • Bill

    I enjoy reading Clean Technica. I am a supporter of clean energy. I am a republican. We’re not all bad guys. I also don’t really like Fox News. But Clean Technica needs to remain credible as well. There was a photo on an article stating pollution from power plants in today’s issue. That photo is not of pollution, but steam emanating from the stacks. You can tell, because the steam dissipates after leaving the stack in the photo, a clear indication of steam, not smoke. A smoke train will travel for miles. Keep it credible, keep it clean.

    • Bob the man from down under

      I agree but don’t follow Australia example by shutting down coal fired power stations by our mad liberal party for wind and solar which cause electricity price to reach $13,000 MW in Queensland, New South Wales & Victoria have the highest electricity cost in the world, we won a gold Global a ward set by grid tied rooftop solar power for electricity price costing.

  • Adam

    I’m pro renewables, but also pro free market. Looking over the idea of REPs there are a lot of economic pitfalls to that type of command economy. I currently purchase 100% renewable power for 11c/kwh whereas the average German is paying over 30c/kwh and only getting 25% renewables. Is there something I’m missing? Why would I want to pay 3x more for 75% less renewables and be excited about it?

    • Bob_Wallace

      The high price of German electricity precedes both their high rate of installing renewable energy and their decision to shut down nuclear.

      From a 2009 Economist article about the high price of electricity:

      “The main reason Germany’s electricity market is not working as it should is the lack of competition.”

      “A second problem is that Germany’s biggest electricity generators also own the networks that distribute electricity. Critics argue that this gives them a huge advantage over independent producers…”

      “… over the longer run, ambitious plans to increase the share of electricity from renewable sources may erode the dominance of the country’s four biggest electricity generators. Germany hopes to get as much as 30% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020, and although few in the industry think the target will be met, there is nevertheless likely to be a huge investment in new generating capacity over the coming decades.”

      And then from Zach…

      “Renewable Energy generated almost 26% of the total electricity demand in Germany during the first half of 2012. … That’s a massive increase compared to 20.56%, the percentage during the same period in 2011”

      Looks like a bunch in the industry are going to be dining on crow.

      • Ben

        You said before that Germany was the bench mark for all the world to see, electricity went down because of grid rooftop solar power and now its gone up, Germany has highest electricity prices now in the world.
        But wind and solar now is the bench mark? you are saying now wind and solar drive up electricity prices rocketing out of control in Germany now.

        • Adam

          What I think he’s saying is that business monopoly of the power grid is driving up German electric costs. Germany does remain an example that Green can be done, remember a few years ago pundits were saying that having over 10% renewables would destroy a utility grid because of power generation variability.

        • Bob_Wallace

          No, Ben. You misread.

          Germany had high priced electricity long before wind/solar/nuke shutdown were factors. Apparently Germany has a small number of companies who control retail prices.

          Read the 2009 Economist article I linked.

          Now Germany is seeing solar reduce sunny day peak hour wholesale electricity prices fall to extremely low.

          Read the CleanTechnia article I linked.

          Apparently Germany still has a pricing problem and those low wholesale prices are not getting passed along to retail customers.

          Think monopoly and price fixing.

      • Adam

        Thanks for those articles, interesting reading. Looks like big business meddling in politics isn’t just an American problem. I also noticed that German business electric rates are about half of consumer rates and that wholesale electricity prices are only 20% of total electric costs. That’s a lot of money headed to big government and big business.

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