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Germany Agrees: There Is A Solar-Powered Solution To Greek Debt Crisis

It was a deal that looked all but dead last year, but now Germany and Greece have formally agreed to an initiative that will enable Greece to profit from one of its most valuable natural resources: the sun. The new Germany-Greece solar power agreement calls for Germany to lend its investment dollars and its low-cost solar know-how (which we’ve been eyeballing enviously here in the U.S.) to create new green jobs in its financially strapped EU cousin, while providing that country with a sustainable export product and solve a geopolitical energy issue, to boot.

The Germany-Greece Solar Power Agreement

Greece already has the makings of a strong but slowly growing solar power sector. The Germany-Greece agreement, which was signed last Thursday, calls for Germany to take the lead in helping the country to rev up its solar power production with an investment of $319,000 (250,000 euros).

That represents one-fourth of the program’s initial phase, which was formulated by the European Union’s Task Force for Greece. Other members of the EU will chip in the rest for a total of one million euros.

Germany Beats US On Solar Power Costs

What could turn out to be far more valuable than the money, though, is Germany’s low cost solar power track record. With the benefit of German experience, Greece’s solar sector could successfully compete on the export market despite the added cost of transmission infrastructure.

We’ve been reporting on the relatively low cost of German solar power here at CleanTechnica for a while now. Among the articles we’ve put up is a little nugget from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, which published a detailed comparison of solar power costs between Germany and the U.S. last fall.

Overall, the installed cost of a residential solar power array in Germany comes in at around $3.00 per watt, while in the U.S. a similar array would cost about double that, at $6.19 per watt.

At least part of the reason has to do with the “soft costs” of solar power including permits, inspections, grid connections, and everything other than the hardware itself.

The Obama Administration has been pursuing a goal of $1.00 per watt for installed solar power (that would translate into about six cents per kWh) through the SunShot Initiative.  SunShot is a broad-ranging public-private program that includes private sector incentives to reduce soft costs such as the Rooftop Challenge, as well as funding for foundational research to improve solar cell efficiency.

Geopolitics And Sustainable Energy

One of our favorite things to do is add up the “twofer” benefits of renewable energy, and the Germany-Greek deal pushes it out into the geopolitical realm.

Creating new green jobs in Greece and providing that country with a valuable, sustainable and competitive export to help get its finances on track is all well and good, but what’s really interesting is the creation of a significant new energy producer within the EU. That could help offset EU’s natural gas dependency on Russia, which suffers from instability and prices spikes, further complicated by relations between Russian and its neighbors, most notably Ukraine.

CleanTechnica first noticed that something could be in the works between the German and Greek solar markets back in 2011, but the idea almost sputtered out in 2012, when Germany had second thoughts about a head-to-head competition between its domestic solar industry and Greek imports.

Clean Vs Dirty Energy Exports

Not for nuthin’ but while 21st century geopolitics came down on the side of clean energy in the EU, here in the U.S. we’re still spinning our wheels in the mid-20th century fuel export scenario.

As our domestic sustainable energy production revs up here, we’re seeing more pressure to increase U.S. petroleum, coal and natural gas exports. We’re also seeing more pressure to use our ports for fossil fuel exports from Canada, most notably in the form of “dirty” tar sands oil through the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline.

Instead of a twofer, we’re getting increased risks here in the U.S. from the continued impacts of mountaintop coal mining, natural gas fracking and oil pipeline transportation.

In the most recent Keystone development, our friends over at The Hill report that U.S. Representative Lee Terry (R-Nebraska) referred to approval of the Keystone pipeline as a “no-brainer,” just days after an existing Exxon pipeline ruptured and sent thousands of barrels of crude tar sands oil from Canada spilling into a residential neighborhood in Arkansas.

Maybe that could pass for a no-brainer in the 20th century, but good luck with that in 2013.

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Tina specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.


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