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Solar power is thriving in Germany

Bill Sepmeier and Matthew Charles
Vail, CO, Colorado

If you want to survive “peak oil” in style, consider moving to Germany.

Why? For one thing, the Germans have been serious about getting themselves and their economy away from imported oil for decades. They presently utilize more solar electric and solar thermal technology than any other country. The German national solar power incentive program pays a system owner far more than the hodgepodge of offerings in the United States, up to 50 cents for each kilowatt hour generated until the solar system is paid for, usually in only a couple of years.

But the Germans aren’t just making conversion to renewable power financially simple. Under a new law called the Renewable Energies Heating Law, all new homes built in Germany after Dec. 31, 2008 will be required to install renewable energy heating systems. Most homeowners are expected to choose solar panels. Under the new regulations, the size of the solar panel required will depend on the size of the house: Solar panels will need to have an area equal to 4 percent of the total area of a house. If a sneaky German tries to skirt the requirement, he or she will be the recipient of fines up to 500,000 Euros (That’s $739,000).

The goal of the Renewable Energies Heating Law is to have each new German home reduce its energy consumption for heating and domestic hot water by 14 percent. Under the same law, existing German houses will have to be remodeled to incorporate renewable-energy-based heating systems offsetting 10 percent of the total energy used for heating and domestic hot water.

It is estimated that mandating energy performance in buildings could save $73.9 billion in heating costs in Germany through 2020.

Since adopting its incentives, the use of solar power for electricity in Germany increased 300 percent in the last 10 years, and the use of renewables for heating increased by 40 percent over the same period. According to their government, houses built in the 1960s use about four times more energy for heating than updated, energy-efficient houses, which need five to six liters of heating oil for each square meter per year. The cost of that heating oil has tripled since 2001.

To further defer these rapidly increasing costs, $517 million has been allocated each year for homeowners to install renewable energy systems such as solar panels, wood pellet stoves, wood pellet boilers and geothermal heat pumps to increase each home’s energy efficiency.

You might think a $517 million annual government “giveaway” for renewable energy systems seems improbable. But think about this: Every year the American government grants billions of dollars in tax incentives to the big oil-producing firms that do business on our soil. If $517 million per year still seems like a lot of money to you, also consider that our present administration spends this same amount of money every two days, and has spent it every two days for over six years, to occupy Iraq.

America’s ‘Big Iraq Adventure’ supposedly buys us the right to continue spending unknown sums to “protect our vital energy supplies” in the Middle East. Energy supplies have tripled in cost over the past few years we’ve been “protecting” them, while trans-national oil company profits reached record levels.

The German government chooses to give this amount to its homeowners to install renewable energy systems since it is clear to them that a continued reliance upon fossil fuels will inflict much more damage upon their national economy than this investment’s total cost over time. Oil will eventually run so low that no national economy will be able to survive its costs. Rather than squander our nation’s treasure and credit to prop up the oil business as it passes into history, the Germans have decided to invest in themselves ” they are the leading manufacturers of solar, alternative and renewable power technology today.

Perhaps it is time we Americans wake up and invest in ourselves and our future instead of spending what capital we have left deferring to big oil.

Bill Sepmeier is Chief Technical Officer and Matthew Charles is the marketing director for Grid Feeders, based in Eagle-Vail. For more information, go to http://www.gridfeeders.com.


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