Solar Record in Germany Dwarfs Solar Record in Sunny California

Sunny Germany, the world's solar capital | Photo: majorbonnet/Flickr/Creative Commons License

Both Germany and California set solar power production records this week, but it hardly seems fair to Germany to mention California's milestone in the same paragraph. During mid-day on Monday, the central European nation's millions of solar panels put an estimated 22.68 gigawatts of power into the German grid. Let's end this paragraph here.

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New paragraph: Two days later, we here in California set our own newest solar power record, as the California Independent System Operator (CaISO) tweeted Thursday morning:

For perspective, Germany's record solar power output of Monday is almost thirteen times California's record solar power output of Wednesday.

To be fair to California, the CaISO figures don't include much of the small-scale solar power installed on rooftops, nor does it include solar generation on the grid in those parts of California not covered by CaISO; about 20 percent of the state, including some prime solar areas. The total amount of solar power being used in California might have been as much as twice the CaISO's semi-official record figure on Wednesday.

Still, Germany's way ahead of us, a fact that won't be news to seasoned ReWire readers.

And it doesn't look like Germany's in any mood to let us catch up easily. Eric Wesoff reports today at GreenTech Media that the land of beer and leather britches installed another 775 megawatts of solar capacity in the first quarter of this year, and they're about to raise the ante by introducing a subsidy for battery backup of solar PV systems, the precise terms of which will likely be announced in early May.

We've often mentioned a number of the reasons Germany's so far ahead of California in the solar game, and this article from last August is a pretty good introduction, but the main difference between here and there is Germany's robust Feed-in Tariff (FiT). That's a program in which people who install solar capacity get a good price for every bit of power they produce. Californian utilities have been reluctant to cooperate with FiT programs at all, and the state's largest FiT program so far -- LADWP's -- pays only about two thirds what Germany's FiT does per kilowatt-hour of power.

It's tempting to say that California needs to step up its game. What California actually needs to do is to get in the game. Right now we're watching from the sidelines, while Germany (and Italy and Australia and Spain and Japan) run all over the playing field.

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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