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Solar power generation world record set in Germany

German solar power plants produced a world record 22 gigawatts of electricity – equal to 20 nuclear power stations at full capacity – through the midday hours of Friday and Saturday, the head of a renewable energy think tank has said.

Germany’s government decided to abandon nuclear power after the Fukushima nuclear disaster last year, closing eight plants immediately and shutting down the remaining nine by 2022. They will be replaced by renewable energy sources such as wind, solar and bio-mass.

Norbert Allnoch, director of the Institute of the Renewable Energy Industry in Muenster, said the 22 gigawatts of solar power fed into the national grid on Saturday met nearly 50% of the nation’s midday electricity needs.

“Never before anywhere has a country produced as much photovoltaic electricity,” Allnoch told Reuters. “Germany came close to the 20 gigawatt mark a few times in recent weeks. But this was the first time we made it over.”

The record-breaking amount of solar power shows one of the world’s leading industrial nations was able to meet a third of its electricity needs on a work day, Friday, and nearly half on Saturday when factories and offices were closed.

Government-mandated support for renewables has helped Germany became a world leader in renewable energy and the country gets about 20 percent of its overall annual electricity from those sources.

Germany has nearly as much installed solar power generation capacity as the rest of the world combined and gets about four percent of its overall annual electricity needs from the sun alone. It aims to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 40% from 1990 levels by 2020.

Some critics say renewable energy is not reliable enough nor is there enough capacity to power major industrial nations. But the country’s leader, Angela Merkel has said Germany is eager to demonstrate that is possible.

The jump above the 20 GW level was due to increased capacity this year and bright sunshine nationwide. The 22 GW figure is up from about 14 GW a year ago. Germany added 7.5 GW of installed power generation capacity in 2012 and 1.8 GW more in the first quarter for a total of 26 GW capacity.

“This shows Germany is capable of meeting a large share of its electricity needs with solar power,” Allnoch said. “It also shows Germany can do with fewer coal-burning power plants, gas-burning plants and nuclear plants.”

Allnoch said the data is based on information from the European Energy Exchange, based in Leipzig.

The incentives provided through the state-mandated feed-in-tariff (Fit) are not without controversy, however. The tariff is the main support for the industry until photovoltaic prices fall further to levels similar for conventional power production.

Utilities and consumer groups have complained the Fit for solar power adds about 2 cents per kW/h on top of electricity prices in Germany that are already among the highest in the world, with consumers paying about 23 cents kW/h.

German consumers pay about €4bn per year on top of their electricity bills for solar power, according to a 2012 report by the country’s environment ministry.

Critics also complain of growing levels of solar power make the national grid more less stable due to fluctuations in output.

Merkel’s centre-right government has tried to accelerate cuts in the Fit, which has fallen by between 15% to 30% per year.

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