Germany just two solar panels away from not needing coal?
Germany already produces enough solar power to meet the private energy needs of half its inhabitants. With this kind of momentum, can a future independent of non-renewables be far off?
“While this excludes the energy needs of industry, it’s worth noting that the installation of just two more solar panels per person could potentially meet the total annual energy consumption of every person in Germany,” said Valentin Fliess, Strategy Director of Canadian Solar EMEA.
A powerful symbol of Germany’s move from non-renewables to solar is the 166 MW Meuro Solar park in Brandenburg, now the country’s largest. The installation stands on the site of an old lignite (brown coal) mine. Canadian Solar provided 636,000 CS6P-P modules, powering nearly 90 percent, or 148 MW, of Meuro Solar Park’s 166 MW total output. More than simply enhancing the environment though reducing the need for pollutant non-renewables, the site converted a brownfield into an energy-producing solar farm, created hundreds of local construction and operations jobs and generates enough energy to power 67,500 households in the region. Little wonder it was named POWER-GEN International Solar Project of the Year in 2012.
Increasing the number of PV installations still further would go a long way to reducing the country’s reliance on non-renewables like locally-mined brown coal or, more particularly, oil from conflict regions. Besides the security and cost advantages this could provide, it would be great for the environment too.
“It’s not just that we’d reduce air pollution from burning fossil fuels. Switching to renewables also negates the need for mining, an activity that has a strong negative impact on the landscape,” said Fliess.
Germany, a country not famed for its sunny weather, currently manages to produce 436 solar Watts per inhabitant. This is by far the highest output in Europe, even when compared to sunnier European countries like Spain (216 W), Greece (229 W) or Italy (294 W). “These facts show that making a full transition to renewable energy is not just some wild dream. It is easily within reach for private households and, with time, renewables like solar and wind could probably meet all the needs of industry too, not to mention create thousands of new jobs,” said Fliess.
It is clear that the solar industry is becoming an important engine of job creation around the world and that, here too, it is phasing out fossil fuels. In Germany employment in the solar sector has seen exponential growth until recently and now employs over 50 000 people as opposed to the coal industry which has been declining steadily for decades. Today coal only employs about 33 000 people, over 40% fewer than it employed in 2000 and less than 90% of the number it employed in 1960. Importantly, renewables are more job-dense than fossil fuels, so even when price parity is achieved, solar will still employ more people.
While the demand for fossil fuels decreases, renewables now account for 11.2% of gross energy consumption and 28% of total electricity consumption in Germany. Environmental benefits aside, according to PV Magazine, renewables are becoming more attractive to people because the cost of production is steadily decreasing over time, while the reverse is true of non-renewables.
The mining industry in particular is now looking at ways it can use non-renewables to cut its costs. In remote regions the cost of solar and wind energy can be up to 70% cheaper than diesel. For this reason many mines are looking to create hybrid power systems that rely in renewables as far as possible and supplement them with diesel generators when necessary.