Depending on what you read, Germany’s historic transformation of its energy system from fossils fuels and nuclear to other renewables — the Energiewende — is either a roaring success or an economic disaster.
But, if there is one point supporters and critics might agree on, it is that the European nation’s vision for a clean power system is one of the world’s most ambitious, aiming to generate 40-45 percent of its power from renewables by 2025 and 80 percent by 2050. The country appears well on its way, with renewables, including hydro, accounting for 31 percent of its electricity
in the first half of 2014; 27 percent if you take out the hydro.
Its solar feed-in tariff, guaranteeing solar owners above-market rates for power they feed into the grid, has put panels on roofs across the country — as countless American tourists will attest — and been a model for other countries and incentive programs.
But the speed and breadth of renewable adoption has not come without challenges. High incentives for renewables have been paid for with high electric bills, and German businesses increasingly raise concerns about grid reliability and the country’s loss of competitiveness. While public support for renewables remains strong, policy reforms are underway.
In other words — though obviously different in scope and particulars — Germany now faces some of the same issues that utilities, solar companies and policy makers in the United States are starting or soon expecting to tackle as solar adoption and levels of intermittent power on the grid continue to grow.
The Solar Electric Power Association, and 34 utility and solar executives from across the country will travel to Germany Sept. 14-18 on a fact-finding mission to see for themselves the progress the country has made and the need for policy and program changes it now confronts.
Members of SEPA's 2012 fact-finding mission to Germany on a site visit to a German solar project.
While some site visits and a little sightseeing are scheduled, the agenda for the trip is packed with sessions aimed at encouraging frank and open discussions between German energy leaders and the SEPA delegation. Translation: Tough questions will be asked and, hopefully, answered.
Scheduled speakers include high-level German executives, such as Oliver Schäfer, president of the European Photovoltaic Industry Association, and Dr. Martin Shoepe, who heads the Division of International and EU Affairs at Germany's Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety.
Members of the U.S. delegation will also be presenting case studies on the new solar business models they are developing.
The key question of whether the Energiewende is sustainable will be the focus of a final session, after which the SEPA group will formulate its observations and key take-aways for a report to be released later this year.
We will also be following the delegation on social media, with onsite updates posted to the SEPA Utility Solar blog and our Twitter and Facebook feeds.
Undoubtedly, both the American and German executives will have insights to share and lessons to learn from each other.
The U.S. and Germany are acknowledged leaders in the amazing transformation of the world’s energy systems now underway. Open discussion and exchange of information can only strengthen their leadership roles and help both countries move forward with advanced solar technology, smart policies and balanced business innovation.