We can learn something from Germany’s solar surge

Autobahn. Lederhosen. Oktoberfest. Say “Germany” and that’s a bit of what comes to mind.

  • Wednesday, July 23, 2008 12:00am
  • Opinion

Autobahn. Lederhosen. Oktoberfest. Say “Germany” and that’s a bit of what comes to mind.

Famous for speedy cars, stylin’ leather shorts and oompah music, Deutschland now leads the world in something surprising: solar energy.

When I think of places such as Bavaria and the Black Forest (der Schwarzwald, if I remember high school foreign language class) I generally don’t picture sunblock and dark shades, but that’s where solar power is taking off.

A few of my friends at Puget Sound Energy just came back from a utility industry tour of Germany, and it was a real eye-opener.

Imagine see-through solar panels on the sides of office buildings, and rooftops covered with solar panels, too.

If I hadn’t seen photos of places like Munich, I’d wonder if these claims weren’t the result of too much time at the biergarten, but solar energy is truly thriving in a place with weather as gray as ours. In fact, probably even grayer, especially if you enter sunny eastern Washington into the equation.

Energy efficiency is big, too. Picture insulation that isn’t just passive, like our conventional pink fiberglass batting, but actively changes along with the weather.

The technology is a bit like filling the walls with candle wax. When it gets hot outside, the solid insulation turns liquid, a transition that actually removes heat from the room. When the mercury dips, the reverse happens, with the liquid turning solid — releasing trapped heat just when you need it. When it comes to producing energy cleanly, and using it wisely, these Germans are sehr gut, ja?

So why is Germany (not exactly known for blistering deserts and endless sun) the world leader in solar energy?

The key is a national vision of clean technologies and sustainability as a path toward future economic growth. Political and business leaders in Germany are targeting renewable energy technologies and energy efficiency — plus the skills and smarts that go with them — as vital goals. Considering the Puget Sound region’s track record in aerospace, computing, medicine and more, I think we could give our friends in Germany a pretty good match in solar and other renewable energy technologies if we put our mind to it.

We haven’t quite kept pace with Germany when it comes to harnessing the power of the sun, but solar is growing here, and quickly. PSE now has 300 customers with solar systems on their homes, or double what we had a few years ago.

To learn more about how you can take part, go to the Customer Renewable Generation page at PSE.com, or drop me a line at AskAndy@PSE.com.

Who knows? Maybe we can snatch the solar crown from Germany. But, I think we ought to let them keep the lederhosen. Personally, I just don’t have the legs for them.

Andy Wappler is a senior public relations manager at Puget Sound Energy. He joined PSE in February 2008 after being chief meteorologist at KIRO-TV. He looks forward to hearing from you at AskAndy@PSE.com.


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