Germany Hits Record In Solar Power With 50% Of Energy During Mid-Day Hours

Germany’s economy is viewed as the most successful major economy in the world today and the key bedrock for European recovery. While many conservative leaders in the United States are calling on the tearing up of environmental protections to help our economy, Germany has shown the fallacy of that claim. The Germans continue to set new records on environmental protection. This week the German solar power plants produced a world record 22 gigawatts of electricity per hour — literally half of the energy used through the key midday hours in the country.

That is the equivalent to 20 nuclear power stations at full capacity without any radioactive waste left over. The Germans are getting rid of all nuclear plants after the Fukushima nuclear disaster last year. Instead, the entire country will be using greater renewable energy sources such as wind, solar and bio-mass.

This is not some tiny country with a mainly tourism economy but one of the greatest industrial nations on Earth. It vividly demonstrates how far we have fallen back in the leadership on environmental issues and technology. As we return to an oil and coal emphasis on energy, the Germans are expanding their control over this industry and reducing the health costs of pollution for their population. It is the very definition of leadership and vision that is so lacking in our own country.

To our German friends, we say gut durchgebraten and danke danke?

Source: Inside

89 thoughts on “Germany Hits Record In Solar Power With 50% Of Energy During Mid-Day Hours

  1. “It vividly demonstrates how far we have fallen back in the leadership on environmental issues and technology . . .. It is the very definition of leadership and vision that is so lacking in our own country.” (JT)

    And our so-called “leaders” (makes one choke) aren’t even embarrassed. Easier to blame the a-rabs and tout the inevitability of tarsands oil.

  2. wow, so you mean that instead of doing what they did..(attack their own population through dead brained bigotted fascist thuggery….) we could do what they are doing now?????

    who knew!

  3. When the “right” people will make the money from alternative sources then we will have them. Right now the oil companies have all those expensive refineries, ships, etc. They need to make their make money back.. The more they invest in that, the longer it will take.

    The oil companies want to squeeze every drop before they will let lose of the strangle hold on America.

  4. Germany was the number one exporter in the world until a short while ago when China took 1st place. Now it is China, Germany, and the in first through third place.

    As JT said, powerful economies can be clean, green, and sane.

  5. Just want to note here, for the sake of accuracy, wind power (that would be industrial-sized wind turbine configurations) ain’t all it’s cracked up to be — and the Europeans are backing off. Much of it is a big industry taking advantage of the ‘green’ label to advance a technology.

  6. @Dredd: There always has been, all it takes is some land area. The liquid salts you link to are only slightly more efficient than water reservoirs. The water reservoir technology is a century old. On a flat plain, one can dig a deep hole, and use the dirt taken out of the hole to build the walls of a lake beside it.

    The energy generated during the day by solar, or when the wind blows for wind, is used to pump water from the collection pit to the upper reservoir. When the energy is needed, it exits from the upper reservoir to the collection pit via turbine, just like we get energy from a dam.

    Between evaporation from the upper reservoir and the loss of energy due to pumping, the reservoir system cost is about 15%; i.e. we recover 85% of the energy we would have had if we had used it directly. The liquid salt has about half that cost, due to cooling of the salts and other losses before steam hits the turbine. However, the salt system is more involved and costly than the reservoir system, and requires more maintenance. The reservoir construction is passive; some old-school concrete, dirt, and big bulldozers. It is basically land-shaping (including concrete channels to turbines). It does take much more area, but can be located anywhere (even several miles from the energy generation, it is just electricity after all), so land is typically not the problem, and any junk land will do.

    If one is located over an aquifer, then building an upper reservoir by digging a hole and using the dirt for walls is sufficient; the water can be pumped up from the aquifer and drained back into the aquifer through turbines; with essentially neutral environmental impact (the water isn’t being used for anything but its weight).

    Because of the costs of storage/recovery, in both systems you would want to use as much energy at the time of generation as necessary, and only use the excess energy for storage, for later recovery.

  7. There are vast areas of very sparsely populated land in the United States where the sun shines almost constantly, except at night.

  8. The administrator of Oak Ridge National Laboratory, top physicist Alvin M. Weinberg, wanted a Thorium Molten-Salt Reactor (MSR), but was fired by Nixon for advocating MSR.

    Thorium types are orders of magnitude safer, orders of magnitude less toxic, and orders of magnitude environmentally helpful on all fronts, than Fukushima style nuclear power plants that are in use today.

    Weinberg was overruled because what he wanted did not produce weapons grade plutonium.

    He wanted liquid salt reactors using Thorium, a common, non-toxic element. Video About It.

    Liquid salt is good for energy generation in several ways.

  9. Too bad the oil and nuclear folks have the money for lobbying. Are small scale systems of either the reservoir or liquid salt practical?

  10. @Dredd: They still produce a storage problem for the waste product. Why bother with that, when solar can satisfy all of our needs and produce no waste or danger at all?

    Modern technology allows the precision manufacture of Stirling engines to be used in solar thermal applications with simple glass/aluminum mirrors that use no rare materials anywhere. The Stirling engine is basically a steam engine; but modern ones can be super-efficient and generate electricity as cheaply as coal. The parts are only high-tech in their tolerances, otherwise they are simple steel and copper, can be mass produced cheaply, and understood and repaired by the common car mechanic.

    It almost seems to me like people have an aversion to perfectly acceptable low tech solutions, as if the greater complication and difficulty somehow makes a solution better!

    Or maybe it is just that much easier to for people to believe if they do not understand it; or maybe it is easier to wish for if they couldn’t accomplish it themselves. If the solution is straightforward but takes a lot of work, perhaps it becomes too real and therefore too much of a responsibility they would rather shirk; because with a solution in hand they are choosing the status quo instead of just sincerely wishing for another magic bullet.

    In a way, that is the topic of this thread: Germany is proving the solution already exists, no magic bullet is needed.

  11. @bettykath: The reservoir or molten salts are not really home-friendly; they require too much space. Fork-lift batteries offer a great alternative storage medium that doesn’t take too much space. For solar thermal, I have seen write ups of ad hoc (home grown) systems small enough for a home that operate a Stirling or Steam engine that drives an alternator that charges a bank of fork lift batteries, kept in a back yard shed.

  12. “[…] the Germans are expanding their control over this industry […]”

    Not really. Quite a few of Germany’s biggest producers of solar cells have filed for bankruptcy in the last months (Solon, Q-Cells, Sovello, Pairan).

    Photovoltaics is ultimately comparatively “low tech,” which means that Chinese products are ~20% cheaper.

    This is of course positive for German producers of solar electricity, but fatal for German producers of solar cells.

  13. It is much easier to solve difficult problems when people work together in cooperation and respect. In Germany (I do some business there each year), Labor has a seat at the table. Labor is respected. Capital and Management know they could do nothing without labor.

    So this is the dynamic that makes them so successful In the US all these groups are adversarial. Everyone is trying to get over on everyone else in order to get more for themselves. Labor is hounded and reviled and used as a scape goat.

    The two big solar projects in Nevada and Arizona used solar panels made in Germany.

    How can this happen when the Germans have much HIGHER labor costs than America?

  14. My pal (no respected dog calls his pal an owner) lives on a boat with almost 100% solar power. A house can be rigged the same way–same power without the sway. The sun dont shine so bright on my Ol Kentucky home though– high rates, coal power plants nearby producing clouds of dirt blocking out the sun. Sort of a vicious cycle–or circus. Germany is first in many catagories–solar is hot right now. Go to Berlin on a hot day and see some hot women.
    (BarkinDog is on vacation at the School for the Blind retreat and will be back in a day)

  15. Tony C. 1, May 28, 2012 at 11:11 am

    @Dredd: They still produce a storage problem for the waste product. Why bother with that, when solar can satisfy all of our needs and produce no waste or danger at all?
    I prefer solar (pv & thermal), tidal, and wind. Not necessarily in that order.

    Geography, geology, and location are considerations as to which one to use where.

    I am proud of Germany for their good example.

    ExxonMobil must hate them.

  16. @Dredd: I read about a design for at-sea wind on floating platforms I think looked smart, including some schemes for storing the energy, including a pretty simple engineering design for compressing air to a liquid in tanks, so the “energy station” can be visited by a barge once a week that offloads the liquid air to its own empty tanks. Again, a reasonably low energy loss rate, there are modern designs for very efficient compressed air engines, and no need for cables or underwater maintenance or tangling. The platform itself can charge batteries that are used for electrical engines by an autopilot to keep it at certain GPS coordinates, and also to report by radio or satellite on status, energy production, and remaining storage capacity. All that enough miles offshore to be well out of sight. With beacons and lights for ships, of course.

  17. The problem with nuclear Energy as a source for power has been pointed out rather painfully by the failure of the Fukushimi plant. Virtually all of the existing Nuclear Power sites have to store spent fuel rods on site. These have to be cooled by pumping water through a heat exchanger to cool the water surrounding the spent fuel. And this has to be done virtually forever, or at least ten thousand years. The upkeep on such a system would beany times the power the plant could generate in it’s active life span of 40-50 years. And many of these sites may be underwater due to rising sea levels or under a glacier in ten thousand years. That is an enormous time span for mankind. Ten thousand years ago we were living in caves and trying to train goats. Who knows what will happen in the next ten thousand years. This is why nuclear energy will always be energy negative. Every intelligent nation, including Japan is planning to phase out nuclear power.

  18. Nuclear power never gets off the government teat. NEVER.

    That is the best argument against it. It is not sustainable, wrecks the environment from the mining stage onward. Just say no. Even Einstein thought it was a stupid use of nuclear power…

  19. New wind design is exciting. Not windmills, but more like wind cylinders. Wave turbines, geo thermal, hydro, solar mirrors, and more could come on line. Solar roofing materials, where your whole roof, even the paint, window panes and curtains in your home, could be generating electricity.

    21st Century nano technology opened up all sorts of new materials…

  20. Tony C to bettykath,

    That was a very interesting post at 11:20 am. I forwarded it to a friend who is planning a small vacation home in New Mexico.

  21. shano, you’re right wind cylinders seem to have significant design advantages over windmill style turbines, not the least including less potential danger of catastrophic failure, and less potential destruction of wildlife. But this is of course not the design that the industry is tooled up to produce, and we know the institutional resistance to such massive design shifts. Additionally, wind turbines have very significant design and economic downsides. Tidal and wave energy do seem to hold some promise.

  22. @Blouise: In New Mexico in particular, a big advantage of solar is that it produces the most when it is needed the most; for air conditioning. Temps over 110, dry or not, are dangerous.

    In New Mexico that can might mean no battery bank or very little, because for a rooftop array 100% of production is used immediately; the A/C has to be on basically sunup to sundown, so not much is left to be stored (unless you have a larger array in the backyard).

  23. @DonS: Tidal, at least, should be a no-brainer, it is no different than engineering a circular dam. The moon drags water in; close gates to dam it in at high tide, and drain it out through turbines at low tide. Repeat.

  24. JohnMacKay: “The problem with nuclear Energy as a source for power has been pointed out rather painfully by the failure of the Fukushimi plant.”

    And Chernobyl. Last night I watched “The Battle of Chernobyl” (listed on YouTube in some titles as “True Battle of Chernobyl”) a 90 minute production from 2005 and it has lost none of its impact over the last 6 years. The first 60-70 minutes are riveting but the last 20 or so minutes are enraging; all politics and lies and concealment by both the Soviet Union and the UN/West of the true effects of the disaster right up to the day the last frames of the documentary was shot.

    The difference between that response and Fukushima and even the BP disaster in the Gulf is … none. Some of the specific parallels are, or should be, criminal . It is amazing.

    That we are talking now about a renewed use of nuclear power generation is foolish beyond words. That we now have a nuclear industry using facilities well past their safe lifespan ( is a good site for nuclear news) is frightening. I have the sick feeling that sometime in the future a different poster will write on a different blawg: “The problem with nuclear Energy as a source for power had been pointed out rather painfully by the failure of the Chernobyl, Fukushima, *Some Aged French*, and *Some Aged American* plants.”

    While reading the posting on Detroit I thought that some of the dead cities we have should be turned into experimental communities, hobbit houses and passive solar homes on lots big enough to raise some food and the odd chicken on, every roof a green space and every multi-story building with garden terraces that would put Babylon to shame. All being fed supplemental energy by blocks-large solar power collectors. LOL, but I always thought SimCity missed the boat by not having a version for the counter culture and hippies:-)

    In kind of related news the U.S. slapped a 31% increase on Chinese solar panels after already increasing tariffs on the Chinese made towers for wind turbines. I don’t know if this is a bargaining chip (since the decisions are up for appeal) or if it’s A. a subsidy for dirty power in America or B. a spur to increase our own production or C. something else entirely that I’m not seeing. It could sure put a crimp in a homeowners plans to get off the grid as much as possible though if it stands.

    “U.S. Slaps High Tariffs on Chinese Solar Panels”

  25. @Shano, DonS: If you are talking about the vertical axis “egg beater” type of wind generator, it is my understanding they are half as efficient as the three-blade horizontal axis standard windmills, and due to the physics of the design, require more maintenance due to wear-and-tear, due to centrifugal forces the bending stresses are focused in the middle of the blades, where they are weakest; while in the standard design, the bending stresses are focused on the root of the blades, where they are strongest.

    I am not sure if an initial cost or manufacturing difference makes these drawbacks worth suffering. That is possible. But the egg-beaters are not an engineering advance, they are a step backward.

  26. Bron 1, May 28, 2012 at 5:47 pm

    Cost of electricity in Germany [in US cents] = 36.48
    Cost of electricity in the US [in US cents] = 11.2

    The US is one of the cheapest producers of electricity in the world.

    So even with solar power, German electricity is still expensive.
    I think the Germans factor in clean up costs. I know they do for some products. We don’t for anything. Consider the cost of our electricity if we factor in the cost of cleaning up the coal mines or strip mines or the nuclear waste.

  27. German and Japan quit on nuclear power plants. The US?

    Fairly long article by Karl Grossman

    The NRC was created in 1974 when Congress abolished the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission after deciding that the AEC’s dual missions of promoting and at the same time regulating nuclear power were deemed a conflict of interest. The AEC was replaced by the NRC which was to regulate nuclear power, and a Department of Energy was later formed to advocate for it.

    However, the same extreme pro-nuclear culture of the AEC continued on at the NRC. It has partnered with the DOE in promoting nuclear power.

    Indeed, neither the AEC, in its more than 25 years, nor the NRC, in its nearly 30 years, ever denied an application for a construction or operating license for a nuclear power plant anywhere, anytime in the United States.

    The NRC is a rubberstamp for the nuclear industry. “NRC stands for Nuclear Rubberstamp Commission,” says Kevin Kamps of the organization Beyond Nuclear.

    And it isn’t that Jaczko opposed nuclear power. “Greg is not anti-nuclear, but he’s pro-nuclear in a smart and considered way,” says Christopher Paine, director of the nuclear program at the Natural Resources Defense Council.

    Since the Fukushima accident began last March 11, [2011] Jaczko, who has a Ph.D. in physics, has called on the NRC to recognize and incorporate in its rules and actions, the gravity of that catastrophe. As he declared as his four fellow NRC members APPROVED THE CONSTRUCTION OF TWO NUCLEAR PLANTS IN GEORGIA in February [2012]—the first OK for new nuclear plants in the U.S. in years:

    “I cannot support issuing this license as if Fukushima had never happened.”

    [emphasis added]

    another excerpt:
    Meanwhile, the NRC has been busy extending the operating licenses of existing plants although nuclear plants were never seen as running for more than 40 years because of radioactivity embrittling the metal parts and otherwise causing problems affecting safety. Nevertheless, the NRC has now extended the licenses of 73 of the 104 nuclear plants in the U.S. to 60 years. And next Thursday, June 7, at its headquarters, the NRC is holding a meeting with DOE and the industry’s Electric Power Research Institute on extending licenses to 80 years. Consider the reliability of an 80-year old car.

  28. all fulltime workers in germany get four weeks paid vacation per year. amazing what you can do when you don’t allow other countries to dump their goods into your country. (coughchinacough)

  29. “[…] So even with solar power, German electricity is still expensive. […]”

    Not quite sure I understand the “even.”

    Roughly 45% of the German price of electricity are taxes of various kinds. And these taxes are levied on electricity and fossil fuels *explicitly* to make them expensive and thereby stimulate energy saving.
    And of course to make renewable energy competitive in the first place.

    High energy prices are a deliberate policy choice, not a bug or a failing.

    “all fulltime workers in germany get four weeks paid vacation per year […] when you don’t allow other countries to dump their goods into your country. (coughchinacough)”

    Germany has relatively few protectionist measures.

    The thing is that according to German philosophy 24 guaranteed working days vacation help to keep productivity high.
    And high productivity (education, concentration on high tech, etc) is where the money for these vacation days comes from, not import barriers for Chinese products.

  30. See how easy it is? Thanks Berliner for explaining the simple process of government pricing a commodity or service to achieve socially desirable ends.

    Sorry, though, that’s ‘socialist’ you know😉 Can’t have that in the land of cowboy capitalism. We prefer 300 million separate decisions that reflect, um, what our media masters and Galtian overlords wish us to reflect.

  31. Berliner:

    Thank you for the clarification.

    If Germans wish to pay 3 times what we pay for electricity that is their right. I have no desire to pay $750/month for my electricity, there are only 2 of us and we keep the lights off and lower or raise the thermostat for winter and summer and keep the hot water set to the lowest safe setting.

    Just out of curiosity how much on average for the following items:

    bottle of beer
    deli sandwich
    car (average like a ford Taurus but German made)
    total tax burden for the federal level as a % of say e35,856 ($45,000/year US)
    cost of 3 bedroom 2 bath house or condominium, you may call them apartments

    Thank you in advance.

  32. DonS:

    I would say 300 million individuals making free, independent decisions on how to live their lives without interference from out of touch, simple minded bureaucrats works pretty well.

    If you are worried about your media masters and Galtian overlords propagandizing you, then may I humbly suggest you do something to strengthen your feeble mind.

    May I suggest that Germany works so well because German bureaucrats are very much smarter than American bureaucrats. In Germany since you cant make much money in the private sector, going into public service attracts the best and brightest, while in America it is the other way round.

  33. @DonS: That is actually a clever idea. The author in that article acknowledges both flaws I knew of; but advantageous spacing between turbines, to avoid turbulent interference, is not something I had heard considered before.

    And you are also right, that might make it viable. The midpoint of their estimate is 34 watts per square meter == 3.16 watts per square foot. A typical PV panel generates about 9 watts per square foot (solar thermal can do about three times that).

    So this is 35% of the energy from PV, but they are not necessarily mutually exclusive. Plus, solar is typically only strong enough to generate about nine hours a day and the wind does blow when the sun doesn’t shine.

    Thanks for the info.

  34. Bron, thanks for acknowledging that I have a mind at all.

    Anyway, lot’s of folks, especially Americans, like to dismiss the European way. Sometimes I think it’s because Americans just can’t conceive that others have it better, and can do things as well or better. I take the example of our transportation ‘system’, infrastructure and hardware, which is largely unregulated and geared toward favoring the automobile, as not working very well from an environmental as well as functional standpoint.

    I might also suggest that it is not just the absolute cost of goods and services, but the overall quality of life that matters. While it’s true that the balance in Europe right now seems precarious, they do pretty well on the quality of life scale, IMO.

    We, only 2 of us as well, also are very conservative in our use of electricity, heat etc. My thoughts on pricing policy relate more to social and planetary concerns, than solely personal. In the social, rather than the merely personal sphere, I do worry about the effect of media masters and Galtian overlords. I guess you don’t.

  35. Tony C., you’re welcome. We have had cause over the past year to become much more educated about wind turbines and industrial wind farms. While I don’t want to get into a full blown discussion, I would just say the picture is mixed. If you’re interested, here are a couple of site related to industrial wind development:

  36. DonS:

    I was just surprised that you would think it so hard to resist propaganda based on the content of your posts.

    I do agree that cars and buses have gained prominence. I am not sure if I am correct about this but I believe government had a hand in doing away with public transportation soon after the production of the automobile.

    As I am sure you are aware, the US had a very extensive city transportation system of electric trains, cable cars, subways, trains [my grandmother tells me stories of her father taking the train from Kirkwood, Mo into St. Louis for work] in the early 20th century.

    Government wanted to aid car, truck and bus manufacturers. The results were a bunch of cars and buses. The government is trying to put that Genie back in the bottle, probably with the same bad consequences in some other area.

    I do agree that Europe has a better lifestyle than we do, which is a shame. People do need time off to recharge batteries. I also think there are segments of our society who are not paid enough but prosperity raises wages and working conditions as employers must offer more to attract labor.

    Europe has paid a price for their policies as you see daily.

    In my mind there is only one way toward increasing the wages and life style of labor and that is through prosperity based on economic and political freedom.

    I am not so worried about the media nor Galtian overlords. The former is a joke and the latter, if I understand their tenets, want government out of economics and out of our lives in general except for a few areas like national defense and the court system.

  37. p.s., Bron, “Galtian overlords” is merely a hat tip to Atrios, whom I admire an excellent practitioner of snark, fact based. I should stick to literal English perhaps. I doubt I will all the time😉

  38. Bron,
    You *heat* with electricity? Warm water and heating is on average 10 euro per square meter per year here in Berlin (natural gas or district heating, fuel oil is a bit cheaper).

    Rent: In Berlin rent is something like 5 to 10 euro per square meter depending on size and location.

    Food is quite variable isn’t it? I don’t know what the average is.

    A bottle of beer? At the supermarket a 20 bottle (0.5 liter) crate is around 10 euro, so 0.5 euro for the beer in one bottle. And a deposit of, I dunno, three point something euro for the bottles and the crate.

    Deli sandwich? Not quite sure what the German equivalent is. Here in Berlin a Döner Kebab is two to three euros. You’ll get a bread roll with cold cuts for one or two euro in a bakery.

    A new VW Golf in the basic version is somewhere around 15000-17000 euro. The “average” version might be closer to 20000-25000 euro.

    Taxes (just plugged it into a program as a single, no kids, every public payroll program):
    gross pay: 35856 euro
    income tax (local+state+federal): 5887 euro
    payroll taxes: pension fund: 3513 euro
    payroll taxes: unemployment: 537 euro
    payroll taxes: health insurance: 2940 euro
    payroll taxes: long term nursing care: 439 euro
    net pay: 22536 euro

    You can buy apartments in Berlin from 1000 to 10000 euro per square meter, depending on size, quality, and location.

  39. @DonS: I am more focused (pun intended) on simplifying thermal solar technology; I would like to see that available for the home. I think the typical residential roof top is enough area to provide most residences with all the power they need, even without ANY energy saving protocols. (Although I do expect typical, cheap, routine things like insulation, and off-the-shelf energy efficiency for A/C, heating, refrigeration, and cooking, but nothing dramatic is needed.)

    I believe the price of thermal solar can be driven down to the price of coal or hydro (from dams). The trick is, I think, to reinvent the steam engine, and rework that design from scratch using modern tools, mathematics, materials and insight.

    For example, with modern materials and precision, we can make steam engines that do not require lubrication or cooling. A steam engine itself has zero emissions except for water and heat, and the heat can be recycled in a way that makes the steam engine about 70% efficient in converting heat to electricity. The 30% “waste heat” is no environmental problem, the sun was going to dump 100% of the heat on the ground or into the air anyway, and our total collection area would be a small percentage compared to the open plains in this country.

    I will also note that the steam engine output can be used for hot, clean, steam-distilled water.

    Although I would welcome government-financed research into this area to develop the technology needed, to be released into the public domain as free design, after that I would let the commercial sector compete to provide systems and service to consumers. That would take most home-owners off the grid.

    In cities where residents of tall apartment buildings do not have an adequate share of the sky to generate their energy, the energy they are buying could still be generated by rural solar thermal plants.

    But my preference is for fifty-million private generating points rather than a few very large generating points. It reduces the infrastructure, reduces the impact of outages, and is simply far more robust. It is even a military advantage, because there is no longer a single point of attack to disable a million homes; if power was generated everywhere, we would evolve systems that made power ubiquitous. e.g. cell phone towers could generate their own power on site, and both the cell phone network and the Internet could remain up and running regardless of what happens to the main grid. The main grid would become a back-up system.

    I do not see that sort of thing happening with PV or wind; they require too much space per watt or cost too much per watt to approximate the energy cost Americans are used to paying.

    I do not rule out a breakthrough, but at the moment I really think solar thermal is the horse that could go all the way, by itself, even to powering an all electric transportation system.

    Part of the reason for that belief is the simplicity (and therefore acceptability) of the concepts. It is just a system of mirrors focusing light, to provide the heat for a steam engine boiler. A sixth grader can understand that. Any car mechanic can become an expert on the steam engine, any home electrician can become an expert on the electrical end, and the mirrors can be stamped out industrially at a cost of 15c per sf and are installed and adjusted very much like a satellite dish.

    I think simplicity of concept is a key to acceptance. The majority of people will not employ a solution if they fear that maintenance or failure might cost them a fortune. It is the ubiquity of understanding that ensures enough service firms will exist that competition drives the cost of service into a reasonable range (like car mechanics, heating and A/C mechanics, home repair men, etc).

  40. Tony C.,

    Such a grid as you imagine could also be applied to powering electric cars across the country. (Thinking of the “cell phone” tower application etc.)

  41. The whole mindset that power needs to be generated on a massive scale and transmitted over long distances in AC to be effective is a fools errand.
    (Power2Choose tm) A self Regenerating Uninterruptable Power Supply is with in arms reach . While meeting every objective of “Smart Grid ” it become the first power source as it bends the ROI curve in favor of the consumer freeing him / her from absolute dependence on grid power. Home grow micro grid DC is a much more cost effective approach.
    We are the first 100 companies in the field

  42. Tony C.,

    Oops …”even to powering an all electric transportation system.” … sorry, I missed that in my first read of your post.

  43. Berliner:

    I hate to say it but I think it is cheaper to live in Germany although I havent done the conversion for the living quarters.

    we pay 7200 dollars for health care and we get it through my wifes work. You guys are paying about 2/3 of what we pay for a private plan.

    How much of your population is on welfare or other government support, excepting pensioners?

    In the states it is quite high and about 50% of our annual federal budget goes to all types of social welfare payments. What is the percentage in Germany?

  44. Tony C., couldn’t agree more on simple and small (btw, I am not closely related to E.F. . . ., but we do share the same last name). I’ve live in a house in the Virginia mountains with renovations designed to take advantage of a due South, downhill slope, and modest roof overhang. It worked great for the important cold months. We moved to another and did renovations but without solar consideration (the architect/friend — who we bought the previous house from! — convinced us that privacy was more important), and boy do we miss and regret the decision.

    Here in Nova Scotia, where we have a small summer cottage (since retired) we have South facing window array (12 ganged single hungs on a littler over 30 foot wall — up and down — it’s not too much in this cool climate). Also a single 4 x 8 solar hot air panel, with thermostatic transfer fan, to help keep electric heating costs down in the winter and early Spring [now!] (only heat the vacant .house to maybe 5C/44F to preserve drywall integrity, but have to cover the downstairs windows with curtains for ‘security’ when we’re not in here). And Nova Scotia has very high electric rates since the Province sold off the utility to a private concern, with guaranteed rate of return, arrgh

    In any case, the original point you make, simple. Yes. At the very least I vow from here on out to always at least consider passive solar construction, renovation, retrofit, etc. Related, I think I’ve read that photovotaics have overtaken thermal units on cost effectiveness though it’s hard for me to imagine.

  45. Tony C., meant to add, on the small, simple scale, community-based or even individual wind turbines are a totally different animal than industrial sized, with quite a different set of factors that recommend them.

  46. Where I live, solar is workable in one part of the year, but not in another. People switch over to wind generation when it is most appropriate, starting in about November.

    Regional and micro power supplies, working with the environment of a particular geography, make a lot of sense. We spend so much money on nuclear energy and oil and gas. These forms of energy extraction cost lives and our world’s environment. We could redirect away from their use on a national scale but this will not occur due to corruption of govt. officials and the interlocking directorate between corporations and the govt.

    Small community based or individual systems are a good way to go.

  47. @DonS: I am surprised an architect could not accomplish both engineering goals; privacy AND passive solar. Or perhaps he just did not want to bother at the time and was only concerned with his aesthetics; I have seen that too…

  48. Tony C., I don’t doubt goals were possible, if we had been pushed for it — even several ventilating skylights on the South facing shed roof. But possibly the aesthetics were in uppermost in his mind — and on that score he scored well we think.

  49. Bron,

    “In the states it is quite high and about 50% of our annual federal budget goes to all types of social welfare payments. What is the percentage in Germany?”

    Actually it is less than 40%. OTOH, military spending is about 48%.

    Social Security is a separate trust fund, not part of the budget, and should not be counted.

  50. It will take an extreme and cooperative effort to wean ourselves from the petroleum teat; especially difficult when the wielder of that teat has no desire to see America weaned. I am the owner of the first residential PV solar installation in my town; a 5KW system of panels that cover the south facing roof. It added value to my property and reduced my utility bill from the $250-300 range to near zero through net metering. It will take years before I reach the break even point in capital outlay versus savings, but we need to start thinking more long term if we want the lights to stay on for succeeding generations. I will never understand why, when the technology is already available we continue to ignore it in favor of extremely limited resources. I can forsee a day when all daytime lighting is provided through fiberoptic transmission, appliances will be run off of on-site power generation, and transportation will be silently achieved through totally rechargeable vehicles.

  51. Bron,

    there are a bit over six million persons (this includes minors, seniors, and so on) in roughly three million households on welfare.

    The share of welfare is roughly 16% of the federal budget (it should be noted that a lesser portion of welfare comes from local governments, I don’t have numbers for those).

    The Federal Ministry for Labor and Social Affairs as a whole represents a little less then 40% (37% in 2011 IIRC) of the budget, but the lions share of that is support for pension funds (which are mainly financed by payroll contributions, but demographics make interventions with tax money unavoidable).

  52. Betykath:

    I think those numbers are off, what I see says around 14% for Defense and about 43% for social programs.

  53. Fun Facts.

    The 2010 census puts the average American home at 2400 sf.

    The 2010 DOE stats say the average home consumes 31.5 kwh per day.

    NASA, for a nationally representative collection of sites in the Continental USA reports average insolation (energy from the sun striking a surface perpendicularly) values of 4.1 kwh per day per square meter (sm) of collection area. A square meter is 10.76 square feet (sf). So, say the sun energy is 0.381 kwh per sf.

    The typical efficiency of solar thermal->steam->electricity with off-the-shelf components is 7.5% (but 44% has been achieved with modern materials, heat recycling and purpose-specific engineering).

    So, although the sun averages 0.381 kwh per sf, at off-the-shelf 7.5% efficiency, that is only 0.0285 kwh per sf. For the average home to get 31.5 kwh, they would need 35 sf per kwh, or 1102.5 sf of solar collection area.

    But 1102.5 sf is only 46% of the square footage of the average home, and we can expect their roof to cover all of it! Of course that is an average, and typical peak usage is about double the average, so double the collection area to the size of the roof, and on average the home will generate twice its consumption. It is not expensive to double the collection area, unlike PV this is all just cheap, polished aluminum mirrors, probably single-axis sun-tracking parabolic troughs, that can be produced entirely by robots for maybe $1.50 per sf.

    A side effect will be about a 10% to 15% reduction in energy usage; on average 22% of usage in American homes is for cooling. Covering the roof with mirrors has been shown to reduce cooling needs by 30% to 50%.

    Anyway, there are 125 million homes in America on the electric grid; in all of 2011 America generated a total of 4100 billion kilowatt hours of electricity for all uses (residential, commercial, industrial are the big ones).

    So total generation works out to about 32,800 kwh per house, per year. That is about 89.8 kwh per house per day. Now recall, 1102.5 sf will generate 31.5 kwh per day, so 2400 sf will generate 68.57 kwh per day, or about 76% of the national need. (That much electricity can be generated by a 20 hp steam engine running an average of 6 hours a day).

    That is JUST residences, not any commercial or factory roofs, or open fields of unproductive land or desert, just existing residences already hooked up to an electric grid.

    Let me also point out that is an average excess per house of 37 kwh per day, which is being used for commercial and industrial purposes, for which of course they should pay. The average price per kwh in 2011 was 12c, so over the course of the year, the excess energy per average residence would have a retail value of $1620 per year, and the total energy generated would have a value of $3003 per year. I believe the break-even point would be about three years.

    In this alternate universe, we require no coal (42% of generation), natural gas (25%), or nuclear (19%) generation at all. Which means all of our current national electric needs can be met by off-the-shelf zero-emission technology. (And using residences alone, all coal and natural gas generating plants could be decommissioned immediately).

    If we apply a little effort to get from 7.5% efficiency to even 37.5% (and recall that 44% is already a fact), five times as much, we have electric cars and we are off of oil. All of that can be done with already tested and proven prototype systems.

    Which means ONE system can solve the entire energy problem by itself!

    I am not saying we have to abandon wind and PV and other systems, I am saying we do not really need a magic bullet, or new technology, or more research, or rare materials, or new chemistry, or expensive systems or big investments. Solar thermal is executable with aluminum, copper, iron, steel and glass, the components really could not be more common, or the technology easier to comprehend.

    The solutions are not esoteric or difficult to implement or difficult to understand. We could be a 98% zero-emission electrically powered energy-independent nation in under ten years: If we can run a power cable to it, we can run it on the sun. That doesn’t work for heavy flight (commercial or military) or oceanic ships (commercial or military) but those are small potatoes in the national energy budget.

    IMO nothing stands in the way of nearly immediate energy independence except one insurmountable problem: A corrupt, corporatized government.

  54. Plus, FYI, if we decided on big installations instead of home installations (I prefer the latter), we could use some of our desert lands to generate electricity.

    The USA has about 580,000 square miles of desert. It would take about 14,500 square miles of collectors, using off-the-shelf solar thermal tech, to generate 100% of the current electrical needs of the USA. That is 2.5% of the desert area. Even quadrupling that space to allow for access, repair, worker living space and various means of electrical storage, it would still be only 10% of our desert area, leaving 90% preserved for beauty or ecological preservation.

  55. ROFL!!! oh my gosh! “Gut durchgebraten?????????? hahahahahah!
    google translator classic! of course it means “Well done” but in the sense of a well done piece of meat!

    it should say “Gut gemacht!”
    hahah… still wiping my tears… Well done!!!

  56. I don’t buy this claim for one minute. Some info is missing and I don’t believe it. Both East & West Germany were just recently married and now they get half of their energy from alternative sources? Sorry, there is a catch somewhere!

  57. And Gemany’s Green energy is costing an arm and a leg to produce. So much so over 600,000 German’s are disconnecting anually. Due too the execessive high power bills!

    We do know how disasterous Solar and windpower can be when it comes to supplying electricity during winter!

    No wonder Germany are building Coal power to replace nuclear!

  58. Suspiciously dubious claims has always been made for solar energy which has been a highly politicized subject in order to promote it. Tell that to us living in Siberia and Northern Russia. Solar energy can never compete efficiently with properly designed self-recycling nuclear power plants which we are building in mass production to fight the coming Ice Age and increasingly cloudy and colder winter seasons. 50%? At what time and season? Nuclear power can do that 24/7 regardless of weather!

  59. I’m one of those bizarre, irrational people (according to R.) who has always advocated the fact that “green” will eventually meen “green dollars”. My degree is in ME, and I specialize in manufacturing processes. Several of the studies I was privleged to work on this last semester were related to how manufacturing companies could make money by going green. That, IMHO, is the only carrot (with negative consumer reaction and governemnt interference as the sticks) to entice corporations to go green. Many of today’s companies who proclaim themselves green do so because a sizable portion of the American public thinks green is good. It’s positive PR for these companies, in other words. But when you leave the big name companies, the incentive to go green is limited to one thing- money. But the arguments are there, for anyone with a brain to use for energy efficiency. Very simple equations can be used to demonstrate long term viability and cost reduction in using energy efficient sources, renewable energy, and energy efficient processes and machinery. I think what a lot of corporations are getting stuck on is some of the old perceptions of green tech- it used to cost more, it used to be highly ineffecient,which ticked off shareholders, not to mention what can be a painfully large initial investment. Some of the things that can be used to advocate for a company to go green are those same equations, a presentation to stockholder meetings using good, reliable QUANTIFIABLE scientific data and cost estimates. Another way is to introduce companies to best practices for RCI used by companies like Dr. Pepper, which has been successfully implementing a green strategy into all of their processes, for the simple fact that they can make millions more by using less resources.. RCI can be used as a successful strategy from an engineering standpoint to continously overhaul processes at a much lower initial investment cost, and the continual feedback from actual observed costs during manufacturing using different types of technology provides incontrovertible evidence for the benefit of green tech.

    BTW, can anyone tell me what the cost effictiveness of Germany’s power grid is? I haven’t been able to isolate any type of analytical data on it, and it would be very interesting, I think.

  60. BTW, can anyone tell me what the cost effictiveness of Germany’s power grid is?

    I am not the expert you look for, but I am German.

    That’s a complex issue. we used to have only a few giants, part of my family worked for them over generations. They must have been quite well off considering the way above average pensions they receive, compared to other family members.😉

    I gave up my local provider one of these giants and am supported by a little energy agency for a couple of years now. They make matters much more transparent for me, just as I can handle everything online. I changed basically because I had no chance to check my yearly consumption, no one could explain to me the enormous differences in spite of pretty constant consumption. Now nobody comes to read the meter, I do that myself. And my consumption actually went down enormously. Interestingly I even got a bonus for using less, than my former consumption. No idea how they do this. Maybe they simply give back part of the gains resulting from the prepayments, since your rate/tariff is based on last year’s consumption, with the same monthly rate for a year.

    Additionally the little agency, actually is cheaper even cheaper than what I paid a decade ago. OK the expert will say: that’s deregulation. But strictly the old giants own the power grid so the new ones in the market should be worse off, since they have to pay for using the grid. There obviously must be laws that handle how much has to be paid, negotiated with the parties I guess.

    To return to one of my family member’s former company (earlier Badenwerk, now EnBW), I have no idea how they do it, but they use the power grid for the phone, internet and television for at least a decades by now, maybe much longer. The influence of the people that worked for the power giants in my family members is that everyone uses both geothermal energy and solar panels, privately now, except me. …

    Power grid = Stromnetz, with Strom = power/electricity, Netz = grid, Betreiber=provider. This is an automatic translation of the German site: It’s a site that offers reliable market data to little providers like mine mentioned above.

    Even if the translation is not very good they may be very helpful to an interested American trying to understand our market. At least I hope they are. Obviously the European power grid is linked up, has to be. The deregulation may well be the result of European laws, but as I told you, I am no expert, only German.

    this is the translation to the site of the department of Energy at the department of Economics at the University Cologne.

    Click contact and sent a message to the secretary of the chairholder, Prof. Dr. Marc Oliver Bettzüge, Christel Schaefer, the E-mail you’ll find there. Careful her name has been translated in the process from Schäfer to Shepard, but not her email. I wonder if our for American eyes curious umlauts will show, but I think they do. You don’t need them in the email address and they are transcribed like this ä=ae, ü=ue. He surely will be able to point out relevant links in the really complex EU environment or give you advise on literature. I am pretty sure there will be enough in English to satisfy your interest.

  61. Maybe they simply give back part of the gains resulting from the prepayments, since your rate/tariff is based on last year’s consumption, with the same monthly rate for a year.

    don’t misunderstand, I not only got back what I had paid above my actual use in prepayments, but got an extra bonus for spending less energy. I am pondering about changing to 100% renewable energy now, or next time I can change the tariff/rate. In the normal mix it’s 35

  62. CLH, I just realized that my comment above my comment above does not show in spite of it containing only two links. Thus it somehow hangs in the air. I am no expert, and beside linking to two experts above only told you only about my consumer experience concerning energy and what changed during the last decade in Germany, I suppose based on EU law. This is admittedly an assumption, since I can’t imagine our energy giants giving up their monopol without outside force, in this case EU legal force.

    But I would be pleased to help you find the experts you look for to find efficient and informed answers to your questions. If you like me to do that, send me an email: lea.hahn(at) That’s my mothers maiden name.

  63. Leander,

    After reading your post, I checked on your comment and it was flagged for moderation automatically. I think the filter just got confused. Sometimes it seems to not like links for foreign servers. I’ve approved the comment.

  64. @CLH: But when you leave the big name companies, the incentive to go green is limited to one thing- money.

    There is no good engineering reason for thermal solar to steam to electricity to be as expensive as current production, or even coal, if mining and shipping costs are taken into account.

    Thermal solar collection exists at 98% efficiency; heat transference hits 95% routinely, steam (and Stirling) engines have exceeded 50% efficiency, relatively inexpensive inverters are 95% efficient. That is 44% efficiency from insolation to electric energy (and three times the power of photovoltaic). It would reduce the area needed by a home, to power the home, to about 188 sf of mirror (a 24 x 8 foot parabolic trough, for example).

    I think companies will get off the grid, because the time will come when generating the electricity yourself will be cheaper.

  65. Germany gives tax credits to go solar, average home cost in US about 17 thousand dollars for south facing roofs to go 80% on solar, if this same house was in Germany you get a 50% tax deductable on it ! Germany’s have always been on top for they are one of the most productive & resourceful people in the world. Was reason the Brits. wanted to go to war with them, Churchill wanted to break the spirit of the Germans, hated them more then Hitler himself….!

  66. Germany discovered cold fusion in the 1930s. They were working free energy tech while the rest of the world was asleep. Bottom line? They have mastered mass generation of energy without petroluem. Its probably a Tesla-like free energy solution. Good for them. They always figure out and deploy new technology, not like the brain dead west and their 2-year olds in charge.

  67. There are ads all around where I live in southern Brandenburg talking about brown coal being needed again (used in the GDR) for energy.

  68. In Israel gas is like 10 bucks a gallon. I also has very little cloud cover/rain. Every rooftop has an Solar Panel you hit the switch and the electricity heats the shower water.

    A guy at AIPAC had a very smart idea-He sells batteries to people. Not cars, electric batteries. Since Israel is a small country, it is economically and practically feasible to develop a system for those with electric cars to drive the maximum miles like 100 or so in the Nissan Leaf and swap batteries at battery stations. I think he even devised a system where you don’t even have to pay for the car, just a monthly fee for the batteries.

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