What is Solar Energy in Germany?
Germany, despite being a sun-drenched country has been considered as one of the highest solar power outputs around the world and still possesses the most advanced and latest research about solar energy and has many new industry actors. Moreover, they’re expecting for the second wave of solar power expansion, which will soon bring success and progress for the solar technology’s full systemic integration.
For several years, Germany has been considered as the world’s top PV installer among other countries. At the end of the year 2016, Germany managed to build a total installed solar power capacity of 41.3 gigawatts (GW) which was behind China’s solar capacity.
Most solar power in Germany exclusively consists of photovoltaics (PV) systems only. Germany has only a little interest in concentrated solar power (CSP) for it does not use photovoltaics and this solar technology requires much higher solar insolation as compared to the PV system. However, there is still an experimental CSP-plant with 1.5 MW capacity which is being used solely for on-site engineering purposes only rather than for commercial electricity/power generation. This concentrated solar power is called the “Jülich Solar Tower” that is owned by the German Aerospace Center.
Moreover, in 2014, Germany managed to install about 1.5 million photovoltaic systems across the country which are ranging from small rooftop solar power systems to medium commercial and large utility-scale solar plants and farms. The largest solar farms of Germany are located in Neuhardenberg, Templin and Meuro with solar capacities of over 100 MW. Moreover, these PV technologies were accounted for an estimated 6.2 to 6.9 percent of Germany’s net electricity generation in the year 2016.
However, new installations of photovoltaic systems have slowed down steadily since the beginning of the year 2011. Also, it was estimated in the year 2017 that over 70 percent of the employment in the solar industry of the country have been lost in recent years. Solar power in Germany has gone through rough times since it has been started in the wake of Germany’s Renewable Energy Act in the year 2000. However, German companies quickly loomed to global leadership in solar power technology before a collapse in the solar industry happen and some of the companies were forced to hold their businesses.
Proponents from the Photovoltaic industry blamed the government for its lack of commitment in the said industry, while others point out that the loss of jobs in the solar sector is due to financial burden that was associated with the fast-paced launching and manufacturing of photovoltaics, which in their perspective was very unsustainable to the transition of renewable energies.
With all of these, still, the official governmental goal of Germany is to continuously improve and increase the contribution of renewable energy to the country’s overall electricity generation and consumption. By 2020, Germany is aiming for a long-term minimum target of 35 percent capacity, 50 percent by 2030 and around 80 percent power capacity by the end of 2050.
Currently, the country is significantly producing more electricity at specific times with high solar irradiation than the country’s needs, slowing down spot-market prices and exporting the country’s electricity surplus to nearby countries. In 2014, the record of exported electricity surplus reached almost 34 TWh. The decline of spot-prices in the market may raise the electricity prices for retail customers, as the expansion of the guaranteed feed-in tariff and spot-price increases as well.
As the combined share of fluctuating wind and solar energy is nearly achieving 17 percent of the national electricity mix, energy issues and problems are also being prevented and others becoming more manageable. This is because of the electrical grid adaptation, new grid-storage capacity construction, reduction of fossil fuels, altering of nuclear power plants and constructing a new generation of combined heat and power plants. Today, nuclear power and brown coal are the cheapest suppliers of electricity in Germany.
Solar Energy Progress in Germany
Germany is considered one of the first countries to install grid-scale PV power. Besides, Germany was the first country, along with Japan, to achieve 1 GW of cumulative installed PV capacity, in 2014. Solar power in Germany has been growing considerably since 2004 because of the feed-in tariffs of the country for renewable energy as well as the declining cost of photovoltaic technology. These feed-in tariffs were formally introduced by the German Renewable Energy Sources Act.
In the 5 consecutive years since 2006, the prices of photovoltaic systems dropped by more than 50 percent. This caused a rapid increase in solar capacity in 2011, wherein solar PV achieved a total of 3 percent in the country’s electricity generation, amounting to an 18 TWh solar PV capacity. In the same year, the federal government of Germany had set a target of 66 GW of installed solar PV capacity by the year 2030, to be achieved with a yearly increase of 2.5 to 3.5 GW. Aside from that, they also set a goal to aim 80 percent of electricity from renewable sources by the end of the year 2050.
Whereas, in record years of 2010, 2011 and 2012, there were more than 7 GW of PV capacity installed annually. During this period, the installed solar capacity of 22.5 GW rendered almost 30 percent of the deployed photovoltaics worldwide.
However, since the year 2013, the number of new installations of the PV system was declined significantly because of more implemented restrictive governmental policies.
Five Largest Photovoltaic Power Stations in Germany
Solar Park Meuro
The Solar Park Meuro is the largest solar park in Germany with a 166 megawatt (MW) photovoltaic system located in the village of Meuro and Schipkau in Germany. The 70 MW capacity was completed in 2011 while it reached the 166 MW capacity in 2012. The solar PV plant was built on a former lignite mine and was named as POWER-GEN International solar project of the year in the year 2012. This photovoltaic system uses about 636,000 solar panels, which were provided by Canadian Solar, and has 20k-string inverters that came from the REFUsol. It is also considered the first solar power station to use a grid voltage of 690VAC for some of REFUsol’s 333k HV central inverters.
Neuhardenberg Solar Park
Neuhardenberg Solar Park is the second-largest solar park in Germany with a photovoltaic power plant capacity of 145-megawatt (MW). This was also one of the largest solar power stations in Europe. This solar park is located at the former Neuhardenberg military airport in Brandenburg, Germany. The 145 MW capacity was achieved in September 2012. In 2015, another solar battery storage facility with a rated power capacity of 5 MW and 5 MWh was added and was commissioned in mid-2016.
Templin Solar Park
Templin Solar Park is one of the largest solar parks in Germany next to Neuhardenberg Solar Park. It has 128.5 megawatts (MW) photovoltaic power station capacity, this solar capacity was completed in September 2012. This solar park is located at the former Templin military airport in Germany.
The solar plant covers an area of approximately 214 ha and consists of 1.5 million solar thin-film modules that were manufactured by the First Solar in Frankfurt (Oder). While German company SMA supplied the 114 power inverters used in the PV plants. Furthermore, the park was built by the Bavarian company Belectric.
Brandenburg-Briest Solar Park
Brandenburg-Briest Solar park is a photovoltaic power station with 91 MW capacity which is located at a former military airfield in Brandenburg, Germany. It was completed and commissioned in December 2011. During that period, it was the largest solar park in Europe. This solar park is equipped with Q-Cells solar modules, which is consist of three sections namely, Brandenburg-Briest East and Brandenburg-Briest West both with 30 MW capacity, and lastly the Briest-Havelsee with a solar capacity of 31 MW.
Solar Park Finow Tower
Solar park Finow Tower has a total of 84.7 MW capacity. The first phase of this FInow Tower solar project was commissioned in 2010 with 24.3 MW capacity and the second phase which was named FinowTower II with 60.4 MW was completed in 2011. The solar park is located in Finowfurth, Northeast of Berlin, Germany. It was equipped with Suntech modules.
Solar Companies and Manufacturers in Germany
Centrotherm International AG
Centrotherm International AG does the developing, manufacturing and marketing of the thermal key equipment of solar technology as well as processing the technology to produce solar cells, power semiconductor devices, and memory devices. Aside from that they also process LED and sensor technologies and provide energy-related services. The company headquarters are located in Blaubeuren, Germany (Baden-Württemberg).
IBC Solar is a Germany based photovoltaics specialist who provides solutions for sunlight-generated power. The company markets solar modules and components of renowned manufacturers. Aside from that, they also distribute their own product lines through domestic retail partners. IBC Solar is also offering tailored solutions project management, photovoltaic installation consultation and planning.
Juwi Holding AG company builds renewable power supply facilities. It was in 1996 when it was founded by Fred Jung and Matthias Willenbacher, in Rhineland-Palatinate, Germany. Currently, its headquarters are located in Wörrstadt. The company’s name “juwi” is an acronym based on the initials of the two founders, Jung and Willenbacher. Waldpolenz Solar Park in Germany was built by Juwi.
SMA Solar Technology AG
System, Mess and Anlagentechnik (SMA) Solar Technology AG is a German company supplier of solar energy equipment which was founded in 1981, The company’s headquarter is located in Niestetal, Northern Hesse, Germany. SMA Solar Technology AG is also a producer and manufacturer of solar inverters for photovoltaic systems with grid connection, backup operations and even off-grid power supply.
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In response to the Fukushima nuclear plant disaster in Japan, Germany has announced plans to go nuclear-free withoutincreasing its reliance on fossil fuels. By ramping up investments inrenewables, the German government plans to fight climate change whilesimultaneously avoiding the risks inherent in nuclear energy. If theplan is successful it could provide a model for other countries thatwant to shift to greener electricity grids.
In 2000 Germany passed the Nuclear Exit Law, which was supposed to endthe country’s dependence on nukes by the year 2021. The last few yearshowever have seen a push from Chancellor Angela Merkel to change the law and extend the life of the nuclear fleet. In 2010 with Merkel’ssupport, the government delayed the timeline for closing nuclear plantsby twelve additional years. This move was unpopular with the public tobegin with, and events in Japan have triggered a new wave ofanti-nuclear fervor in Germany. In response Merkel and other leadingpoliticians have reversed their positions on nuclear energy and are embracing a nuke-free future once again.
Merkel’s government is looking at speeding up the process for retiringnuclear plants, possibly on an even shorter timeline than originallyproposed under the Nuclear Exit Law. However it’s notable that a shiftaway from nuclear power hasn’t prompted any significant push to burnmore coal and other fossil fuels. Rather Germany plans to replacenuclear plants with renewable energy sources like wind and solar power.All the more impressive is the fact that Germany lacks the vastrenewable resources of countries like the United States, parts of whichare both windier and much sunnier than Germany. If Germany can phase out nuclear power and fossil fuels at the same time, other countries oughtto be able to do the same.
Currently Germany generates slightly under a quarter of its electricitywith nuclear power, similar to the United States. The country hasseventeen nuclear plants, and the oldest plants will likely be first tobe taken offline. Germany is already a leader in renewable energy, andrenewables currently meet 17% of its electricity needs. The governmenthopes to increase this figure to 40% within ten years, and by 2050Germany plans to be a 100% renewable economy.
All of this flies in the face of an assumption commonly encountered inthe US, which holds countries must choose between fossil fuels andnuclear power. Germany seems positioned to successfully abandon both,without any of the dire consequences fossil fuel and nuclear advocateshave predicted. Germany expects to have no problem keeping the lights on and adjusting its grid to run off renewable power sources. The UnitedStates should be fully capable of doing the same thing.
Fukushima has shown that modern nuclear power isn’t safe. Meanwhileclimate change goes on, and the imperative to shift away from fossilfuels grows stronger every day. In the face of these two great threatsto the planet’s livability the question isn’t whether to build nuclearpower stations or fossil fuel plants. Rather, it’s how quickly can theworld transition off both?
Photo credit: Paul J Everett
Nick is a Justmeans staff writer for theClimate Change and Energy & Emissions categories, with a backgroundworking on climate and energy issues both on the ground and online.Nick is particularly interested in the interplay between the writtenword and the creation of on-the-ground change, which he examinedin-depth in his senior thesis while at Pacific University. Sincegraduating from college Nick has continued to write about environmentaland climate issues, and to stay engaged in his community. He iscurrently involved in efforts to eliminate fossil fuel dependence andimplement solutions to climate change in the Pacific Northwest – workthat informs and complements his writing for Justmeans.