O’zapft is!


Celebrating my Bavarian roots (mother’s side) with Dad and brother at the East Patrick Street Fairgrounds in Frederick, Maryland.

At high noon on September 20th, the Mayor of Munich tapped the first keg and officially opened Oktoberfest with the traditional cry of “O’zapft is!” (“it’s tapped!”) So began another 16-day international celebration of hard drinking and tube-shaped meats.

Germans take their beer very seriously. Since the Middle Ages, beer purity laws have strictly limited both the ingredients (water, malted barley, hops and yeast) and process allowed for brewing. And their beers are damn good, some would say unrivaled, because the Teutons take it so damn seriously. The same can be said for German cars, soccer teams, and of course, sausage.

Through focused investment, the Germans are now unrivaled in solar energy as well. This seems an unlikely technology focus for a nation that has a not-so-sunny climate similar to Seattle’s.  Actually, it’s more similar to Alaska’s. There’s a reason Germans go to Greece to vacation and not the reverse.  So, what gives?  Are they betrunken

No, they’re focused.  Germany’s Energiewende, or “energy transformation,” aims to power the country entirely on renewable sources by 2050. By the end of 2012, Germany had installed about 30 gigawatts of photovoltaics. During the summer, solar generation now provides close to 50 percent of the country’s electricity.

How is a country with less sunshine than our cloudiest state kicking US ass in solar? Policy is a big factor. The German government has heavily subsidized renewables for years. Now that solar power has a solid foothold, Germany can ease off the subsidy pedal.

Here in the States, “soft costs” remain the biggest obstacle to competing in the renewables sector. But there’s hope for us, according to Kiley Kroh at Climate Progress:

America’s own German-style solar boom may be just around the corner. Residential solar installations in 2012 reached 488 megawatts — a 62 percent increase over 2011 installations. Jon Wellinghoff, chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) recently told Greentech Media that solar is growing so quickly, “it could double every two years.” He continued that other renewable sources will supplement solar, “but at its present growth rate, solar will overtake wind in about ten years. It is going to be the dominant player. Everybody’s roof is out there.”

Community Solar in the EcoDistrict

Here in Seattle, our weather is better suited for solar generation than Germany’s. Seattle City Light has been building community solar projects on some of the City’s landmarks—Jefferson Park, the Aquarium and the Woodland Park Zoo.

Now they’re planning to build one in the Capitol Hill EcoDistrict atop the Holiday, one of Capitol Hill Housing’s

Rendering of the soon-to-be installed solar panels atop the Holiday(image: Bonneville Environmental Foundation)

Rendering of the soon-to-be installed solar panels atop the Holiday(image: Bonneville Environmental Foundation)

affordable apartment buildings in partnership with the Capitol Hill Housing Foundation. With capital funding from SCL, the Foundation has contracted A&R Solar to put a 25.92 kW photovoltaic system on the roof of the Holiday. Construction should be complete in November.

Community solar is a democratization of solar power – making it affordable as an investment to even lower and moderate income Seattle families.  “Solar units” of $150 per unit will be available soon for purchase via the Seattle City Light website.  Then, based on how much the array atop the Holiday produces, the utility will credit investors on their electrical bills through the year 2020. We expect that investors will be paid back in full.

From the Seattle City Light website:

Seattle City Light pays to build and maintain a large solar array in a location optimally situated for solar exposure and chosen for its community appeal. The array generates electricity to the Seattle City Light electric grid, which further diversifies our clean energy power sources. Anyone with a Seattle City Light electric account can sign up.

Each year through 2020, the utility credits participating Community Solar customers for a portion of the power produced by the Community Solar array. Plus, participants receive a Washington State Production Incentive specifically designed for Community Solar customers, which is double the production incentive paid to individual customers who generate solar electricity on their homes.

The Washington Production Incentive is what makes this program go.  It is a subsidy, so if you’re like Mitt Romney and hate solar subsidies, this program isn’t for you.  But if you think the Germans may be on to something with their Energiewende and believe as I do that it’s time to get serious about renewable energy, then INVEST TODAY.  (Note: you must have a Seattle City Light account #).

Another reason to buy solar units at the Holiday: in July 2020, ownership of the array will transfer to Capitol Hill Housing and will provide approximately 25,000 kWh of free clean power annually to offset the considerable cost of providing affordable housing on Capitol Hill.

Invest today!