German Solar Power

Sameer Kumar
December 7, 2016

Submitted as coursework for PH240, Stanford University, Fall 2016


Fig. 1: Solar capacity added by Germany was highest between 2010-2012 and greatly declined following this "boom". [2] (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Whether the majority of people believe in global warming or not, there is scientific evidence that the burning of fossil fuels for energy releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, the leading cause of the warming of the Earth. So in the last decade, people have been forced to come up with new ways of harnessing energy. This has led to developments in the field of solar energy, a reliable source of renewable energy that can power our lives in a much safer way. In particular, Germany has been one of the world's leaders in producing solar energy, and has been a great example for other countries to follow. What has Germany done that has made it such a solar power leader?

What Did Germany Do?

To start with, Germany had a clear goal of what it wanted to achieve with regards to solar power. The government decided that they wanted a certain percent of total electricity used by the country to come from renewable energy sources, such as solar power, and for this percent to increase as time went on. For example, their official goal is to have 35% renewable energy by 2020, and 50% renewable energy by 2030. To reach these goals, the German government heavily invested in the German solar industry. They passed the German Renewable Energy Sources Act, which set up a system of feed-in tariffs. Essentially, a feed-in tariff is a subsidy paid for by the government to renewable energy producers to incentivize them to increase production. The more they produce, the more they make. Seeing the strong backing of the German government, investors became confident in the solar industry, and made some long-term investments. With more money, the solar energy industry quickly ramped up production of photovoltaic (PV) systems, the contraption that turns light into electricity. From 2010-2012, Germany experienced a "boom period" in the installation of PV capacity, with an increase in almost 23 gigawatts. This represented almost 30% of the world's PV capacity. At this point, Germany was the world's leading solar energy superpower. [1]

The Decline

However, in 2013, the amount of new installations of PV systems in Germany started to decline, and it has continued to steadily drop. Today, Germany has fallen behind China as the world's leader in solar energy production. There are many reasons for this, but perhaps the biggest one is the amendments made to the German Renewable Energy Sources Act. [2] Continuing to subsidize the German solar industry started to get expensive for the German government, and so these amendments were added in to reduce the number of feed-in tariffs and set a limit on the amount of subsidized installations. For example, the latest version of the law only calls for financial assistance as long as the total PV capacity is under 52 gigawatts. [3] The effects of these new laws were clearly felt by the German solar industry, as can be seen by Fig. 1.


Although Germany is no longer the forefront of the world in producing solar energy, it is still a great example to other countries on how they can start to slowly increase and catch up. The biggest problem right now with solar energy is how expensive it is to harness. However, as more and more countries start to follow the lead of Germany and implement policies that promote renewable energies, more cost-effective ways of doing so will be discovered, hopefully leading to another "boom" period worldwide. Following Germany's lead, one can imagine a bright future in which the world is powered by only renewable energies, perhaps the leading one being solar energy.

© Sameer Kumar. The author grants permission to copy, distribute and display this work in unaltered form, with attribution to the author, for noncommercial purposes only. All other rights, including commercial rights, are reserved to the author.


[1] H. Wirth, "Recent Facts About Photovoltaics in Germany," Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems, 14 Oct 16.

[2] R. Kunzig, "Germany Could Be a Model for How We'll Get Power in the Future," National Geographic, 15 Oct 15.

[3] J. Kanter and K. Bradsher, "Europe and China Agree to Settle Solar Panel Fight," New York Times, 27 Jul 13.