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Germany's Day in the Sun: Solar Hits 22 GW Mark

With the sun beaming overhead and the nation hard at work, Germany turned to solar like never before last Friday and Saturday as the nation's PV installations fed 22 gigawatts of electricity into the grid at one point, providing nearly half of the country's energy needs.

In doing so, Germany answered some critical questions as it reshapes its policy away from nuclear power and toward renewable sources like solar, wind and biomass. Chief among the concerns is how much intermittent solar Germany can seamlessly integrate into its grid without causing major disruptions.

During one 24-hour period, Germany’s PV accounted for nearly a third of the nation’s energy needs on midday Friday when the nation’s factories and offices were humming along, and then it approached 50 percent midday Saturday as residents enjoyed a sun-filled weekend.

The milestone comes at a critical crossroads for a country that is eager to move on from its dependence on nuclear power, but has been increasingly at odds over which path to take. If nothing else, the achievement is certain to add to the growing confidence that solar can fill much of the nuclear void. Germany currently gets about 20 percent of its energy from renewable sources, with solar contributing about 4 percent annually.

According to the International Economic Platform for Renewable Energies in Muenster, the power produced at its weekend peak was greater than the capacity of 20 nuclear power plants. The timing of the peak is particularly important since it comes during times when energy use is at its highest.

"It is often underestimated that the sun brings significant power if and when it is needed most. In the peak time for lunch," said institute director Norbert Allnoch. Because of this, the group says that expensive peak load power plants are increasingly rare or no longer used.

Germany is by far the world leader in installed PV capacity with more than 26 GW. Last year alone, the nation added nearly 8 GW and it has continued its rapid expansion through the start of 2012. Concerns over the speed of installation and the growing cost of government support pushed legislators to adopt a steeper than expected cuts to the Feed-in Tariff that is credited with fueling the installation boom in recent years. That cut, however, has run into some political barriers and a separate mediation panel is now charged with finding a resolution.

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