On August 22, it was announced that Germany had set a new record for solar-generated electricity, a milestone for what has become the leader in installed solar power capacity. The country was able to produce 5.1 terawatt-hours of electricity in the month of July, six times the record in the United States.
This raises the question of why Germany is doing such a better job of integrating renewable energy into its grid, and what the United States can do to start catching up.
As with many issues when it comes to energy, much has to do with having a favorable public policy environment that encourages more development of renewable sources and discourages reliance on fossil fuels. Though the United States has made a more urgent effort to promote wind and solar power in the last decade, a major impediment to the growth of these industries has been slow permitting processes and political opposition.
According to CleanTechnica, a clean technology news site, in Germany it costs an average of $2.44 per watt to install a solar energy system, compared to $4.44 in the United States. Much of the disparity comes from lower "soft costs" in the former – the parts of installation other than the panels themselves, such as labor, marketing, administrative costs and permitting fees. Although panel prices have fallen considerably in the last decade, they can only go so far, while in the United States soft costs have remained relatively flat over the last five years.
The good news is that Americans have in Germany a model for designing a renewable energy regulatory structure that works, so the remaining question is whether or not we'll be able to emulate it, or if we'll continue down the path of dirty fossil fuels such as oil and coal.
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