Vote Solar Friends,
Here is an update of my recent travels to Germany, where I was invited to speak at an international renewable energy conference called RENEXPO (http://www.renexpo.de/english/profil_ren.shtml ). Once I realized my plane and hotel were paid for, who was I to reject an offer to visit the largest solar market in the world?
I started in the ancient city of Augsburg, just outside of Munich, in the heart of Bavaria. My first day there I gave my presentation to a full audience of interested Germany businesses who are interested in expanding into California to serve the growing demand for solar systems. There was a lot of excitement about SB1 and the California Solar Initiative, as well as some confusion as to how it all works here. In Germany the rebate program is very different. They are simply paid an incentive of ~$0.55/kWh - $0.70/kWh for solar PV production, which provides a healthy return on investment and a strong market demand. So they were very interested to see the interaction between state and federal incentives in California, as well as the fact that utility rates play such an important role in driving the California solar market. I felt that explaining that difference was my role there, so I spent some time trying to clarify the market differences.
After making my presentation I headed out to meet the folks integral to the German solar market and visited some of the world’s largest solar installations. My first meeting was with Albert Edelmann, Board Member with Conergy in charge of international expansion. Conergy is one of the largest renewable energy companies in the world and was started in Hans Ruter’s living room in 1998, and is now a $1B company (yes, Billion, with a B). That’s not bad for 6 years of work. We talked about the California market and other emerging markets in the world that will help bring solar into the mainstream in the not so distant future.
After meeting with Mr. Albert Edelmann I jumped into my rented Audi Turbo Diesel Wagon
and jumped on the autobahn. Germany’s famed highway system. The Turbo Diesels are great cars, I got about 40 miles per gallon for my whole trip, including the times I was cruising along at 207 kmh (that’s just under 140mph in American). As you can see the ride was still pretty smooth, even at that speed!
Not only did the car run great and get me where I needed to at a good clip. I was able to fill it with biodiesel from normal petrol stations, so I could shed my guilt about driving around a country with a great public transit system.
One of the great things about driving around Bavaria was that everywhere I drove there were solar systems on the rooftops. Here is a solar system on a little apartment building.
Another solar system that I liked was this one on top of a beer hall. I only took two shots, because everyone drinking beers started looking at me. I guess it was unusual to see a stranger taking pictures of a solar system.
After driving past the beer house I arrived at one of the largest solar parks in the world. The Solar Park Mulhausen is a single axis tracking system, meaning it follows the sun over an East-West path over the course of the day, increasing production significantly.
This solarpark is around 6.5 MW and was the largest PV installation for a while, until a 12 MW facility was built further north. For reference sake, 6.5MW is about enough electricity to power 6,500 European households. That’s pretty cool stuff.
From this vantage point it was all solar all the time!
After the solar park I jumped back in my trusty wagon and sped north to my next solar destination. The Leipziger Solar park. Leipziger is a dual axis tracker, so it tracks the sun through the day and over the seasons, increasing the output even more.
Seeing these two solar parks was extremely interesting. There are only a couple large installations like this in the US, but they are all over the place in Germany, in addition to the rooftop systems that dot the country side.
The other interesting thing about Germany is that the solar resource is extremely low! In fact, the solar resource in the best parts of Germany is only as good as the solar resource in the worst parts of the US.
And when I say the worst parts, I’m not kidding. Only Northwest Washington and Alaska are comparable to Germany’s solar resource, proving that the limits to solar are not technical, but merely political. If Germany can install 700MW in 2005 surely we can do better in the US (The US installed ~80MW of grid-connected PV in 2005).
Raising the political will for solar energy in the US is our challenge and we plan to win. It was great to spend time in Germany, where solar energy is playing such a major role. I’ve come back raring to go.