News and analysis about energy in California with an eye toward renewables.

Belgium Dominating California In Solar

Rooftop solar in Belgium | Photo: Niels Sienaert/Flickr/Creative Commons License

We'd better step up our pace here in California when it comes to building new solar capacity. We're about to have our aspirations handed to us again by a forward-looking country. To the list of countries that have bested California in solar power generating capacity, which already includes Germany, Spain, Italy, France, and Japan, get ready to add a truly embarrassing new rival: Belgium.

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That's right, Belgium is on track to have more solar power generating capacity than California, if it doesn't already. According to Zachary Shahan at CleanTechnica, the Kingdom of Belgium -- a relatively small country on the North Sea in Western Europe -- had 2,018 megawatts of solar generating capacity at the end of 2011. California, in the meantime, even after the largest burst of solar installations in its history, has only 2,073 megawatts and change of solar installed as of the end of December 2012. That's only a 55 megawatt margin, which Belgium may well have surpassed during the course of 2012. (Figures for 2012 are still being compiled.)

Even with that year to catch up, California still loses badly to Belgium when you divide that solar capacity up among each region's population. In 2011, Belgium had more than 184 watts of solar per capita, compared to California's 55 watts. (When you look at per capita figures, California trails behind a lot more countries, including Luxembourg, Slovakia and the Czech Republic.)

There's no particular disgrace in losing a technological challenge to Belgium: it's a highly industrialized country with an extremely tech savvy population. But for Belgium to outstrip California so handily in the solar department means California is doing something very wrong. California is almost 14 times the size of Belgium, and that's including the six percent of Belgium that's covered with water.

Balgium also has far less solar energy available to it, in its perch on the often-cloudy North Sea. A typical square meter of Belgium has only a little more than half the sunshine falling on it that a square meter of southern California does. To find a place in the U.S. with solar power potential equivalent to Belgium's in fact, you's pretty much have to go to Alaska.

So why is Belgium beating California's solar pants off? Almost all of Belgium's solar capacity is photovoltaic, and almost all of that installed due to feed-in tariff subsidies that up until 2012 were equivalent to about 44 cents per kilowatt-hour.

That's two and a half times the size of LADWP's proposed feed-in tariff payment, and it's an indication of the kind of measures we'll likely have to take to get our rooftop solar capacity where it really ought to be.

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About the Author

Chris Clarke is a natural history writer and environmental journalist currently at work on a book about the Joshua tree. He lives in Joshua Tree.
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