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Heil Solar

Germany is the world leader in installed solar power, just ahead of Japan. And the Germans are installing solar way faster than anyone else in the world on a per capita basis. The full figures are at the end of this story.

Germany has 200 times as much solar energy as Britain. It generates 12% of its electricity from various renewables, compared with 4.6% in Britain and 2% in the United States. It has created a quarter of a million jobs in renewables – a number that is growing fast. Britain has only 25,000, a number that represents the amount of jobs created in the industry in Germany in the past year alone.

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Freiburg, a town of 200,000 people in the Black Forest, has almost as much solar photovoltaic (PV) power as the whole of Britain. Dr Dieter Worner, director of Freiburg’s environmental protection agency, admits that such is the competition among German towns that Ulm has just overtaken Freiburg as solar capital of the world.

“But we are still expanding rapidly. It’s a sporting contest,” he says. Indeed, by the time Britain starts its first eco-town in 2016, Germany will have 50 or 60 eco-cities. Small wonder that the Labour government has quietly dropped the pledge it made six years ago to catch up with Germany by 2010. In Germany, too, the higher production has pushed prices down sharply. A typical 3kw PV system costs about $35,000 in Britain but less than $20,000 in Germany. Dr Worner says prices have halved in the past seven years and will do so again in the next seven.

The secret of German success is the “feed-in tariff” (FIT). Anyone generating electricity from solar PV, wind or hydro gets a guaranteed payment of four times the market rate – currently about 35p pence a unit – for 20 years.

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