Germany’s Generous PV Subsidies Have Had Serious Implications: What Can We Learn?


Frequent commenter Cameron Atwood sent me this article describing Germany’s generous subsidies for solar PV and asked me to react to it.

Yes, the German program was overzealous; no one (no one I’ve come across, at least) disputes that. The program’s meteoric rise and fall over the past few years has sent huge shock waves all throughout the PV arena, and to the universe of clean energy as a whole. And those who follow the industry more closely than I tell me that the reverberations will continue to bounce around for many years hence.

I’m sure there is voluminous discussion as to exactly why and how this happened; I’m even more certain that I can’t answer those questions.

Having said this, all these events are happening within an even larger set of discussions: What is the proper role of government in our lives? In particular, how should the public sector react to the potential catastrophes that are headed our way if the nature and quantity of our energy consumption doesn’t change quickly? How should powerful interests be regulated, or provided incentives, such that the technologies they bring to bear change our world for the better, and keep our civilization from going over the edge as our population quintuples over a 100-year period?

Everyone can see that Germany made a misstep here. From there, they can proceed to point fingers, form snap judgments, and jump to irrational conclusions — and, if that is their mission, conclude that renewable energy doesn’t work.

Obviously, I don’t see it that way. At this point, it’s fairly clear that we either find a way to make public and private interests work together towards a clean energy future, or realize that we as a civilization are in for an enormous amount of suffering.



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4 comments on “Germany’s Generous PV Subsidies Have Had Serious Implications: What Can We Learn?

“Obviously, I don’t see it that way. At this point, it’s fairly clear that we either find a way to make public and private interests work together towards a clean energy future, or realize that we as a civilization are in for an enormous amount of suffering.”

Expecting a transition away from fossil fuels to ‘solar’ energy to be comparable to the initial rise of fossil energy is one of the grains of rice in the trap that we now find ourselves in. Like the monkeys that won’t let go of the rice we, for the worship of money, won’t let go of our ‘prize’ either.

It’s become painfully obvious that business and government are not going to work together toward a clean energy future. As you note, we are consequently in the cue for an enormous amount of suffering. All because we lack imagination and allow the medium of exchange to rule our lives. Pathetic.

Daniel LaLiberte

I must correct this misinformation, when you ask how to “keep our civilization from going over the edge as our population quintuples over a 100-year period”. The population is no longer even doubling, let alone quintupling. Growth has been declining for 30 years, and as it continues to decline down to 0 over the next 60 years, the population may only grow about 30%, peaking at about 9-10 billion.

That appears likely unless something else changes, like we figure out how to substantially reduce our footprint, which requires that we stop blaming the poorer half of the population who actually contribute only a small fraction of the current footprint.

I was referring to the process by which the Earth’s population will go from ~2 billion in 1950 to ~10 billion in 2050.

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