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Posted: June 2, 2009
Going green: Why Germany has the inside track to lead a new industrial revolution
(Nanowerk News) In 2008, even as Americans argue over whether renewable energy is a fantasy, Germany generated 14.2% of its electrical power from renewable resources. Already a leading player in so-called clean technology -- the mix of environmentally benign power generation and environmentally friendly technologies -- Germany may become the epicenter of the world's next industrial revolution: the triumph of clean, cheap, sustainable electricity.
This article in Knowledge@Wharton looks at how the German government and individuals helped such companies as Enercon, the world's third-largest producer of wind generators, and Q-Cells, the world's largest producer of photovoltaic cells, reach their present position, and what their gains might mean for the country and the world.
Bigger than Cars
At a time when most countries have hardly begun installing power-generating windmills, Germany has already installed 23,900 megawatts, making it the world's largest home of windmills per capita. Germany also has an installed base of 3,830 megawatts of photovoltaic cells, making the country a world leader in solar power as well, despite its famously wet climate.
Already, renewable technologies provide some 170,000 jobs to the German economy. By 2020, some analysts estimate that clean technology, or "clean tech," will be an even bigger industry in Germany -- and globally, an industry rivaling or exceeding IT in historical importance. Products are good enough already that the installed base of solar panels and wind mills keeps climbing rapidly, and technological advances seem likely to accelerate that process.
Würth Solar of Marbech, for instance, is now at work on thin-film photovoltaic cells that can convert up to 12% of the sunlight they receive into energy, a technology that may prove to be lighter and cheaper to mass-produce than traditional photovoltaic cells. Nanotechnology researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems have invented a new kind of cell that has a much lower efficiency rate but on the other hand, is simply a layer of dye which -- in combination with some nano particles printed on the circuit -- produces electricity.
The home market may be only the beginning. The European Union has challenged itself to generate 20% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020. Solar itself may be just three or four years away from being truly cost-competitive with other forms of power. According to a Piper Jaffray analyst, when solar power becomes competitive with conventional power, "demand becomes infinite."