Originally published in the ECOreport (with edits).
Critics have been pecking away at Germany’s solar program for years.
George Monbiot, a columists for the Guardian, wrote, “The real net cost of the solar PV installed in Germany between 2000 and 2008 was €35bn, at the end of which solar PV was producing 0.6% of the nation’s electricity.”
Robert Wilson, of the Clean Energy Collective, pointed out that one afternoon in 2012 solar panels provided half of the nation’s energy, but that doesn’t represent the norm:
“Yes, Germany got 50% of its electricity from solar one afternoon. Throughout the year it only produced 5%. The 5% is what really matters. The 50% gets all the headlines.”
The renewable sector provided 23.4% of Germany’s electricity in 2013 but, as expert of Germany’s renewable energy transition Craig Morris notes, “that share fluctuates between 10 percent and 50 percent.”
Note the increase of that percentage through the years, from 0.6% in 2008 to 23.4% last year.
Critics claim that this renewable energy growth has not brought about lower CO2 emissions because Germany has been phasing out its nuclear reactors at the same time. This called for a greater reliance on coal, the dirtiest of all fuels, which provided 45.5% of the nation’s energy in 2013. However, consider how much more coal and natural gas would have been used if Germany had phased out nuclear energy without the huge increase in solar and wind power!
Development of solar energy is also said to come at a cost to consumers, who funded much of it through surcharges. Germany has some of the highest energy prices in the world and now plans to impose a green energy levy on retail consumers of green energy.
Many nations provide their residential consumers electricity at a lower cost, but the reverse is true in Germany. Industry is charged less, to ensure it is competitive with other nations. Germany embarked upon its green revolution (Energiewende) in 2000 and still has the strongest economy in Europe.
Solar and wind have driven down wholesale electricity prices, which has benefited industry customers exempt from renewable energy surcharges, but the surcharges and a lack of retail price decreases has resulted in consumers paying more for the renewable energy transition. In other words, industry has seen a cut in its electricity costs while consumers have seen an increase.
Some argue that too much is being paid to farm operators and homeowners who feed solar energy to the grid, but the feed-in tariff for solar producers is now hardly any different from the price of electricity from the grid. 26% of the population wants to have PV panels on their roofs, or a small cogeneration unit in their homes, before the decade is over. That’s not terribly surprising when, as Morris notes, “with electricity from new PV systems already only costing 9-13 cents per kilowatt-hour and retail rates approaching 30 cents, it is unlikely that the market will stop when feed-in tariffs for PV are discontinued.”
According to a recent analysis by Eclareon, Germany’s commercial PV solar has reached “full grid parity” and, in January, was less expensive than electricity from the utility.
The solar sector has reported negative balances in 2010, 2012 and 2013. Dr. Matthias Lang writes one of the principle causes is “high payments for solar input.” He added that, after the surcharge was increased from 5.277 to 6.24 ct/kWh, there were substantial increases for the first four months of 2014. This produced a €1.6 billion surplus.
But a net balance that doesn’t look at the broader picture misses some key points. If that electricity wasn’t coming from solar power, how much of it would be sent to other nations for expensive (in Europe) natural gas? How much money does the country keep within its borders from the transition away from fossil fuels towards solar and wind? How many jobs does it create?
As Bloomberg just pointed out: “Expansion in the region’s biggest economy (Germany) accelerated to 0.8 percent from 0.4 percent in the previous quarter, the Federal Statistics Office said today. Economists forecast 0.7 percent, according to the median of 40 estimates in a Bloomberg News survey. France, the second-largest economy, unexpectedly stagnated in the period, while Italy shrank 0.1 percent. Germany is key to the 18-nation currency bloc’s drive to sustain a recovery from its longest-ever recession at a time when weak price growth is pushing the European Central Bank toward adding more stimulus.”
Germany’s solar development continues. By 2050, Germany hopes to derive 100% of its energy from renewable sources.( solar, wind, biogas & hydropower).