Sunday, December 23, 2012

Denmark Achieves Solar Energy Goal 8 Years Early

Earlier this month, Denmark announced that it had already achieved its 2020 goal for solar energy production. The country previously publicized its national goal to produce 200 megawatts of energy from solar power by the end of this decade. Now, it seems that rapidly growing demand for clean energy and a solar-friendly government has allowed this European country to exceed that goal eight years before the target. Danish experts now predict that if this growth continues, 2020 levels of solar energy production will be 100 times what was first expected.

Have you ever been to Denmark? Few would call it a sunshine-rich country. In fact, it’s probably better known for its gray, cold winters. So what has allowed Denmark’s solar industry to expand so rapidly?

According to Project Manager Kim Schultz from Invest in Denmark:

“The demand for solar cells has increased dramatically since net metering was implemented in 2010. Net metering gives private households and public institutions the possibility of ‘storing’ surplus production in the public grid, which makes solar panels considerably more attractive.

“Denmark benefits from a strong design tradition and this also characterizes the Danish solar sector in which aesthetics and thinking ahead of user needs is a central part of product development. This means that solar solutions are more likely to meet consumers’ demands.”

Although America’s solar production already dwarfs that of Denmark (we added over 700 MW of generating capacity in the second quarter of 2012 alone) it’s important to consider relative size: Denmark has a population of 5.5 million and a size of 16,638 sq. miles (and remember those winters), while the U.S. has a population of well over 311 million and a size of 2.9 million sq. miles. We can and should do more, but we’re not.

The difference between Denmark (and Germany, Japan and Spain) and other countries is how we’ve chosen to develop the solar industry. The governments of these other countries took action early, establishing specific goals for energy production and national strategies for funding and grid connectivity that would help the industry achieve them. No, their plans aren’t fail-safe, and there have already been bumps in the road. But at least they’re on the road.

The U.S. government, on the other hand, is still at the rest stop. We’ve struggled with political forces that oppose development of the solar industry on any terms. Artificial amplification of failures (Solyndra, Abound Solar) hasn’t helped. We don’t have national solar goals. Instead we have the SunShot Initiative, a so-called collaborative effort to reduce the cost of solar, and hope that the market takes care of the rest.

The point is, we haven’t decided together as a nation that renewable energy is the way forward. Other nations have. And it’s not because Denmark, Germany, Japan and Spain are tree-hugging countries, it’s because they’re smart. They acknowledge that fossil fuels are the past, and they want to be strong, secure nations of the future.

We’ve allowed politics to fragment our government to such a degree that even our obnoxious obsession with being the best can’t overcome the opposition of Big Oil, Big Coal and Big Gas. As a nation, we’ve become willfully shortsighted, willing to continue business as usual, leaving the catastrophe to a not-so-future generation. Will we realize our mistake before it’s too late?


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