At midday on Friday 25 and Saturday 26 May 2012 Germany set a world record for solar power by producing 22 (gigawatts) GW, amounting to a third of electricity needs on Friday and almost half on Saturday. That was equal to 20 nuclear power stations at full capacity. Germany decided to abandon nuclear power after the Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011. They closed eight plants immediately and will shut down the remaining nine by 2022. They will be all be replaced by renewable energy sources such as wind, solar and bio-mass.
This record breaking production of solar power proved that one of the world's leading industrial nations is capable of meeting a third of electricity supply needs on a working day, Friday, and almost half on Saturday when offices and factories are closed.
They already get about 20% cent of its entire annual electricity from renewable sources. They already have almost as much installed and operational solar power generation capacity as the rest of the world and produce about 4% of overall annual electricity needs from the sun alone. They aim to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 40% from 1990 levels by 2020 at the latest. The climb to above the 20 GW level was due to increased capacity this year and exceptionally brilliant sunshine across the entire country.
Solar power production in Germany has grown considerably with the country's ‘feed-in tariffs’ for renewable energy, introduced by the German Renewable Energy Act (Erneuerbare Energien Gesetz (EEG)) in 2000. Prices of photovoltaic (PV) systems have decreased more than 50% since 2006.
For those of you technically minded, they had solar PV capacity in 2011 of almost 25 GW) and the solar PV industry installed about 7.5 GW in 2011 so that PV provided 18 terawatt hours (TWh) (or a billion kilowatt-hours) in 2011 which was in the region of 3% of total electricity. Market analysts expect this may reach 25% of production (or more) by 2050. They already have half a dozen solar energy parks contributing to the output but the promotion, sales and financial support for households and businesses in encouraging far more private use of all forms of solar energy particularly.
Now here we are in good old France where sunlight hours are far greater than Germany. France has 59 active nuclear power plants run by EDF and a few that are closed at present. In fact, nuclear power is the primary source of electric power in France. The most recent available figures show that in 2011 French electricity generation was 542 billion kWh net. National consumption was 478 billion kWh (less than the 513 billion kWh in 2010 due to the mild year), the ‘surplus’ was sold to other countries such as Belgium and Italy. That is about 6800 kWh per person or roughly 90% of electricity production which is the highest percentage in the world. EDF are building a third-generation nuclear reactor at Flamanville in northern France, although opening the plant will be delayed until 2016 owing to structural and economic reasons. If François Hollande is true to his word, there may be a partial nuclear phase-out in France, since his party is in favour of closing the oldest 24 reactors by 2025.
Occasionally we get a half-hearted cold sales call from somebody trying to sell PV. The incentives offered are not worth mentioning. Our house has solar panels but so far the PV deals we have seen have not been attractive enough to persuade us because whilst we can ‘sell’ it to EDF, the installations and equipment do not come with the subsidies offered in Germany. We have looked at buying PV to make us as independent of EDF supplies as possible. It would mean importing equipment, finding an electrician with the skills (and reliability) to install a secondary power supply so that we could retain the conventional one for when it is needed and use the PV supply whenever possible, plus store some of what it produces. That is a big order here. It is also prohibitively expensive.
Should we not expect the Fukushima example to persuade France like Germany, Switzerland and other countries reducing nuclear, coal and other dangerous or polluting power supplies in favour of renewables? Much of France has more than enough sun to do far better that Germany, there are enough people using solar power already to use as examples of how money and energy saving is already available, but there does not appear to be the political will. Perhaps we have to wait for a Fukushima type of nuclear accident here but if that is the case then I hope it is sooner rather than later for obvious reasons.