Sunshine over Germany – the Sustained Boom in the Solar Industry
Electricity from science and researchMany thousands of years ago people in Ancient Egypt and in Central and South America were making use of the sun. They integrated it into their architecture, using it to illuminate and heat their rooms. Solar energy had been discovered. Generating electricity from sunlight (photovoltaics) is an invention of the 20th century that was developed primarily in the USA as part of its aerospace research. Today it is one of the high technologies being successfully exported by German businesses. Alongside Japan, Germany has the most successful manufacturers of solar electricity systems.
Scientists at the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems (ISE) in Freiburg are researching organic solar cells and developing a wide variety of prototypes and demonstration systems for solar energy applications. With a turnover of 30 million euro and around 400 staff, the ISE is the largest solar research institute in Europe. Its ambitious aim, as described by its director, Joachim Luther, is for "around 30 per cent of the world's electricity consumption to be capable of being covered by solar energy by 2050." Carsten Körnig, Director of the German Solar Industry Federation, believes that this is a great opportunity for the country: "Germany is becoming Solar Valley, and is translating its technological leadership into growing market success. The core elements in solar electricity systems are increasingly being produced in Germany."
Income from electricityLarge enterprises like Schott Solar GmbH, which with a turnover of 215 million euro (2004) is the largest manufacturer of solar cells in Germany, and Shell Solar Deutschland GmbH, which commissioned one of the world's biggest solar plants in 1999, are very optimistic and are striving for first place in the international solar energy market. In other words, an entire industry is basking in the sun of its own success. According to the industry's own figures, it is experiencing enormous growth, having generated sales in the region of 3.7 billion euro in 2005, and plans to increase this figure to four billion in 2006, employing some 50,000 people.
Environmentalists are pleased to hear it and are supporting the not entirely selfless commitment displayed by the 150 companies which are now in the business of manufacturing solar technology for the production of heat and energy. But they are demanding more. To protect the climate successfully over the long term, i.e. in a sustainable manner, they calculate that CO2 emissions need to be reduced by 80 per cent.
Photovoltaic facts and figuresSince 1999, the area covered by installed solar collectors has more than doubled. This boom is the result of the 100,000-roof solar electricity programme that offered low-interest loans to promote the construction of solar systems between 1999 and 2004. Thanks to the new regulations of 1 January 2004 regarding compensation payments for solar electricity, similar two-figure growth rates are likely to be seen in future. In 2005, solar collectors covering an area of around 7.2 million square metres were installed in 2005, making Germany by far the largest market for solar thermal systems in Europe. Thanks to this market growth, the costs of solar collectors have dropped by half in the past 12 years.
However, we should not let the successes make us lose sight of the fact that photovoltaic technology with its installed power capacity of around 500 million kilowatts makes only a small 0.1 percent contribution to Germany's energy supply. Nonetheless, experts agree that photovoltaic technology is the renewable energy with the greatest potential for expansion, and Germany's government and Ministry for the Environment plan to raise the share of total energy supplied by photovoltaic systems to around six percent by 2050. Worldwide, a 23 percent share is forecast for photovoltaic technology. Though still expensive at the current time, the promotion of solar electricity is important for climate protection and therefore for the future of everyone under the sun.
is an ethnologist, book author and freelance journalist.
Translation: Rosalind Mendy
Copyright: Goethe-Institut e. V., Online-Redaktion
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