Although not known for its sunny weather, Germany initiated the world’s solar revolution about 20 years ago with a vision that other countries would later follow. The goal is to increase the share of all renewable sources in German electricity consumption to 35% by 2020, and 80% by 2050. Compared with other top solar producing countries, Germany is way ahead of the pack in terms of goals and achievements.
The solar vision is based on the simple fact that the new industry needs an initial dose of sustainable heavy investment which must come from the government. Why? Private industries do not have the patience to wait for the big payoff over a long period of time especially facing the powerful resistance of fossil-fuel interests like coal, oil and natural gas.
The government policy hinges on the feed-in tariff (FIT) where all German consumers are required to pay an extra percentage for their electricity bills. This new source of revenue is used to reimburse solar (and wind) producers who feed their electricity into the grid. This incentive has resulted in the explosion of solar and wind energy over the last decade. As these renewables are coming up to speed, the FIT subsidy is gradually being reduced starting 2011.
The spinoffs from the German renewable efforts have greatly benefited the world. By 2015, German CO2 emission had fallen to 908 million metric tons from 1248 in 1990; and is projected to reach a low of 200 by 2050 (Source: German Environment Ministry). The other great benefit is technology advancement where solar and wind have gone through tremendous price drops surpassing coal, oil and natural gas, especially after China has entered into the market.
The technology improvements in solar and wind cannot be underestimated because they make electricity much more clean and economical. Higher efficiency and price drops have brought about a worldwide boom especially in China, USA, Japan and Italy. Furthermore, solar and wind have stimulated battery research due to the intermittent nature of sunshine and wind. Sooner or later, an advanced battery will come into being that will store surplus electricity generated during periods of good sunshine and heavy wind. The advanced battery will also give electric cars a big boost by increasing their travel range, which is the only barrier limiting their sales.
Ranking 4th largest economy in the world with a responsible green vision, Germany has triggered the solar revolution that will also lead to a battery revolution down the road. The German solar effort has greatly contributed to the integration of a modern clean energy system comprising the sun (energy captured by solar roofs or farms), the house (lighting, heating, cooling and others), the factory (electric machines), and the electric car, ship and airplane (transportation). The catalyst is the advanced battery that is light, with high storage, and made from common materials. The search is now on for such a battery that will further boost the solar revolution.