When it comes to the road map the US needs to follow on its path to energy sustainability, it needs to look towards the tried and proven European model. Germany is the shining beacon of that model and the US needs to implement some of Germany’s successful strategies that I’ll be laying out here.
The present incentives in place to encourage the growth of the renewable energy industry are not quite good enough. A complicated mix of tax rebates, incentives and utility programs are doing the opposite of what they were intended to do: make it profitable to generate your own power.
Quite contrary to what a lot of people have been led to believe Germany does not produce more solar power per capita because it’s more sunny over there than it is in the US. It’s simply because they have a government committed to ensuring production of energy is as accessible to as many Germans as possible. The key to this is the use of feed-in tariffs (FiT) also known in the US as clean contracts. It’s an arrangement that mandates the government authorities to buy up any power generated from private sources, of course this is done at a profit to those doing the generation. This simple arrangement leaves everyone happy as a result of this initiative approximately half of the 53,000 mw of solar power generated in Germany is done by ordinary citizens. Apart from putting money directly into the pockets of Germans, the FiT initiative also encourages job growth, evidenced by the 300,00 jobs produced in Germany; something the US can do with a lot of immediately.
FiT is the basis on which the growth of renewable energy but it really starts a lot of other things rolling. The increased demand for solar energy in any economy will inevitably lead to a drop in the prices of installation of necessary equipment which is quite high in the US now. Installation of solar equipment in Germany is about half of the cost in the US.
Permitting in the United States also hampers the proliferation of solar energy use in many states. It takes too long to get a permit and it costs too much as well, making it less attractive to any intending user.
Skeptics in the US also forget that introducing and encouraging the growth of renewable energy and particularly solar energy will force down the general pricing of energy nationwide. As demand for solar energy increases you can also expect an increase in awareness of the benefits and limitations of solar energy. For example, a lot of people believe it needs to be sunny for solar power to be effective but Germany experiences more gray wintery days than the US but still has better solar energy output.
Despite all the benefits improved solar energy generation could add to the state of the economy the growth of this highly important resource is being subdued by political ambition and greed. A recent technical report by the Alliance to save energy (ASE) commission on national energy efficiency policy revealed that doubling current national energy productivity could create a million new jobs and save the average household $1000 every year in energy costs.