In the wake of the tragic events at the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami in March 2011, Germany made the surprise announcement that it aims to close all its nuclear power plants by 2022. Nuclear power has been a mainstay of power generation in many western European countries for decades but, accidents such as Chernobyl, led to popular opposition and serious questions over its safety and waste product.
Before Germany’s nuclear phase out pledge in 2011, nuclear power accounted for approximately 18% of its energy consumption. For the world’s fourth largest economy, Germany’s plan is extremely ambitious. Many observers have been asking what Germany will substitute for nuclear power? Currently, almost 20% of Germany’s energy needs are met through renewable sources which is already one of the world’s highest rates.
Germany has focused heavily in solar energy and has consistently proven that it is a feasible and viable alternative energy source in a highly industrialized country. On May 25th, 2012, news broke that German PV-cell solar installations had generated 22.4GW of electricity (peak output) for the power grid. That met the needs of 30% of the entire grid and was equal to 20 nuclear power plants running at full-capacity!
Oftentimes, solar power is portrayed as an unrealistic alternative power source for industrialized countries – especially in countries not famous for sunshine. The German investment, development and vision have proven that this is false. Solar power can have a meaningful and substantial contribution to reducing a country’s dependence on fossil fuels.