Germany’s solar power plants produced a record 22 gigawatts of energy on Friday, equivalent to the output of 20 nuclear plants. The country is already a world-leader in solar power and hopes to be free of nuclear energy by 2022.
The director of the Institute of the Renewable Energy Industry (IWR) in Muenster, northeast Germany, said the solar power delivered to the national grid on Saturday met 50 per cent of the nation’s energy quota.
"Never before anywhere has a country produced as much photovoltaic electricity. Germany came close to the 20 gigawatt (GW) mark a few times in recent weeks. But this was the first time we made it over," Norbert Allnoch told Reuters news agency.
The German government decided to turn its back on nuclear energy last year after the Fukushima disaster and plans to be nuclear-free by 2022. Critics have rounded on the initiative, skeptical that renewable sources can meet the nation’s growing energy needs.
“This shows Germany is capable of meeting a large share of its electricity needs with solar power. It also shows Germany can do with fewer coal-burning power plants, gas-burning plants and nuclear plants," stressed Allmoch.
Merkel’s government has invested large amounts of money in restructuring the nation’s energy infrastructure and weaning it off atomic energy. It has almost as much solar power energy units as the rest of the world combined and currently generates four per cent of its annual energy needs from the Sun.
Utilities and consumer groups have complained that increased use of solar energy will push up the price of electricity in Germany.
German tax payers currently shell out around $5 billion annually for solar energy, an Environmental Ministry report says. Chancellor Merkel has tried to slash prices but has been blocked by the German parliament.
Germany is also planning to ratchet up its use of other renewable forms of energy in an attempt to compensate for its nuclear shortfall.
The government will capitalize on wind, solar and bio-mass as well as increased use of coal power stations to produce its power.
However, in spite of increased investment, Bundesnetzagentur, the country’s new energy regulator, has predicted widespread power cuts as the power grid is put under extra pressure this winter.
Bundesnetzagentur has said Germany will have an energy capacity gap of approximately 10 Gigawatts, equivalent to the output of 15 power stations.
In addition, critics have voiced fears that increased use of unreliable energy resources such as wind power and solar energy will put a lot of strain on the national grid because of fluctuations in output, making it very unstable.
Although Germany faces significant hurdles in its race towards a nuclear-free future, it still remains a world-leader in renewable energies.