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Solar Energy "Ueberalles"

Even if the skies are often cloudy in Germany, one thing is crystal clear. Solar energy is thriving here. While already making a noticeable impact in this central European country, the story being told at Intersolar 2007 in Freiburg this week is, "You ain't seen nothing yet." And it's being told in at least 30 languages.

The mood at Intersolar, the world's largest solar energy conference and expo, is so upbeat and positive about the future, one gets the feeling that the old guard of energy—coal, gas and nukes—will only be able to watch with envy as the solar industry becomes a major player in the global energy market over the next decade.

So, what's driving this hot market? Increasing internationalization and investor confidence appear to be behind the explosive growth of this dynamic industry at 20% per year globally. According to research by the international consultancy group of Ernst & Young, the investment climate in the solar industry has never been more positive and the current rate of growth will continue for at least the next decade.

"The confidence of the financial industry and investors in the innovative and competitive capacity of German solar companies is high and is just as important as a reliable political framework," said BSW-Solar Managing Director Karsten Koernig in his opening remarks during a press briefing at the conference.

Research conducted by BSW-Solar, Germany's solar industry association, also shows that the cost of solar energy will continue to drop at a rate of 5% per year during the next decade. This, along with increasing costs of fossil fuels, will make solar energy cost competitive with conventional energy sources for most consumers by 2017.

Planes, Trains & the Topic of Climate Change
At the center of this renewable energy universe stands the German feed-in-tariff (FIT), which was launched in 1999 and created the platform for growth. Arriving in Germany by plane, and then traveling to Freiburg in the southwest corner of the country by train, it is immediately obvious that this is a country doing something about its energy future.

Wind turbines are visible nearly everywhere and many of the houses and farms alongside the train tracks sport solar hot water or photovoltaic systems. Solar has definitely gone mainstream here.

Another thing that is very clear is the German people take the topic of climate change extremely seriously. One of the first things they often ask, as soon as they find out that you are American, is "What are you [U.S. government] doing about climate change?"

Of course not everyone in Germany is ready to install a solar system and a recent poll showed that, while nearly all Germans agreed that something needs to be done about climate change, very few felt that it was their personal responsibility to do anything. But for those who do want to do something, the solar industry is ready. Tens of thousands of residents have already taken advantage of the generous FIT incentives and benefits offered by the German government.

Other countries too are starting to follow suit. Spain, Italy, France and Greece are touted as the next growth markets in Europe. All have FITs that offer generous incentives for generating solar power and selling to the grid—and German companies are moving aggressively to establish themselves in these foreign markets. In addition, China and the U.S. are also becoming increasingly important markets to the German suppliers of solar energy products and services.

Intersolar 2008 & the Global Energy Market
And it isn't just German companies anymore that come to Intersolar to present their technology and services for solar energy solutions. Of the 640 exhibitors at this year's conference and expo, 236 are from countries other than Germany. China—with 50 companies exhibiting among ten large, crowded exhibit "Hallen"—is the largest foreign contingent. Also well represented are Spain, Austria and France.

All are here at Intersolar to show off the latest offerings of products and services that support the modern life we have become used to in ways that fit with the equally modern sensibility of environmental consciousness.

For someone coming from the U.S, where renewable energy events are just starting to become popular, Intersolar is a huge event. In fact, it is growing so large that next year it will have to move from Freiburg to Munich, where the organizers expect more than 800 exhibitors and as many as 35,000 visitors.

After eight years in Freiburg, many of those who have participated in the growth of this event are feeling a bit nostalgic about the city they will be leaving behind, but are also excited about what it means to move to a much larger venue—and a city better known on the international scene. This, surely, will be a better fit for an event and an industry that truly has gone global.

Oliver Strube is the publisher and co-founder of RenewableEnergyAccess.com.

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