It's no secret that some quite remarkable things have been happening with solar in Germany. between 2010 and 2011, solar output grew some 60%. They installed more solar in December of 2011 than the US did all year. And over half of the country's renewables are owned by citizens, not utilities.
Sure, this renewable energy revolution has not been without its own set of challenges. Too much solar has been cited as a problem for a grid designed for centralized production. And while the German government's feed-in tariff cuts were largely praised for their measured, predictable nature, tumbling solar prices and a huge increase in installations have lead to talk of deeper cuts and a fierce political struggle over the future of subsidies. While critics claim solar costs are skyrocketing and overshadowing cheaper alternatives (often ignoring that many fossil fuel costs are externalized), defenders of Germany's position as renewable energy leader suggest this is just more of the same lobbying by fossil fuel interests and utilities aiming to hold on to power.
This video—which flows a little too fast for my liking—details just how fast renewables have become a serious player in the German energy scene. And while critics will no doubt point to the very same growth (not to mention the day-to-day variability of output) as a reason why subsidies must be reigned in, whichever side of the fence you sit on it is clear that the energy landscape has changed dramatically.
If similar strides could be made in smart grids and demand response; large-scale energy storage and, of course, old-fashioned energy conservation and efficiency, then we really might start giving fossil fuels a run for their money.