Here comes the sun
I have been convinced for a long while that renewable energy, particularly solar, is on a pathway to becoming the world's dominant form of energy. (And it's not just me — even Big Oil agrees that solar power will eventually win out.)
But I expected that expansion of renewables would only really begin to take off once the price of renewables fell below that of conventional fuels. And while the price of renewables is falling and falling, it still isn't cheaper in most countries (although, it is on course to be be cheaper than coal and nuclear by the end of the decade).
Still, that hasn't stopped Germany's massive solar rollout. As Brian Merchant of Vice notes: "Germany is now producing 28.5 percent of its energy — nearly a third — with solar, wind, hydro, and biomass. In 2000, renewables accounted for just 6 percent of its power consumption." Merchant adds that one day this year 75 percent of German power consumption came from renewables, smashing existing records.
Remember: This is not occurring in a small, obscure country, but in the industrial heartland of Europe.
Germany has done this by cleverly incentivizing its solar rollout. Electricity firms are obligated to pay producers of solar electricity a fixed tariff for solar-generated electricity fed back into the grid over the 20-year lifetime of the solar panels. This guarantee provides security for investors in photovoltaics, making solar economically sustainable earlier that it would otherwise be, thereby smoothing the transition to a renewable-energy economy and lowering carbon emissions.