Why is Germany Ahead of California in Solar Development?

Published February 2013 by

California has sun, rooftop space, and a long history of environmental awareness.  California even has a strong desire for clean and renewable energy.  Despite all the advantages that should make California the world’s leader in solar energy, Germany has about 30 times the solar generating capacity of California with over four fifths of this capacity on rooftops.  So, why does California lag so far behind Germany?

For reference, Germany is smaller than California.  It’s not full of sunshine either.  In fact, Germans enjoy about as much sunshine as residents of Seattle.  Yet Germans are adopting solar energy at a very rapid pace.  There are about 350 watts of solar capacity per German compared to 34 watts per Californian.

So, what makes the difference?  A homeowner in Germany with a rooftop solar generating unit can expect to sell each kilowatt for the equivalent of 30 cents US, meaning each hour of sunshine will give the homeowner about $1.40 or so of income.  This is due to the feed-in tariff in place in Germany.  If California had a feed-in tariff comparable to Germany’s, a 4.6 kilowatt setup could earn $3,000 – $5,000 per year for the homeowner.  It doesn’t take long at that rate for a system to pay for itself.

The lesson here is this.  If California wants to encourage solar energy, the government needs to get on board with incentives and tax credits to lower the barriers for the average consumer.  Net metering is a great start.

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