The Bundesrepublik Deutschland and the Pacific Northwest in the United States have one major thing in common – they both get about the same amount of sunshine which translates to “a lot of cloudy days” in plain American English.
In Germany, where the clouds rarely seem to part, there are more photovoltaic installations than anywhere else and it is the third largest producer of solar cells and modules after China and Japan.
So why in the world is Germany the worldwide leader in solar energy and what does that have to do with the Florida Gators?
The answer to that question is Feed-in Tariffs or FIT's.
Now, Germany and the City of Gainesville, Florida have one major thing in common.
Gainesville, in the heart of the Sunshine State, is probably best known for its powerhouse football team – the University of Florida Gators. It is now attracting attention for promoting power of another nature – that being power from the sun - and photovoltaic modules are being installed all over the city. Modeled after the Feed-in Tariff that resulted in Germany’s turbo-charged solar industry, the City of Gainesville was the first in the nation to enact a solar FIT.
The city-owned utility, Gainesville Regional Utilities (GRU), offers its electric customers—both business and residential—the chance to invest in solar photovoltaic systems and sell all the electricity that they produce directly to GRU. Participants signing up for the program before 2011 will be guaranteed a fixed rate of $0.32 per kilowatt-hour of electricity produced for 20 years, an estimated 4-6 percent return on investment.
The Feed-in Tariff for solar energy is the ultimate renewable energy incentive. A solar FIT means that homeowners or businesses sell all their renewably generated electricity to the utility at a premium price and buy all energy used at retail rates. Wow, imagine the tables turned for once. The major difference between FITs and other energy incentives is that the intent goes beyond just supplying energy—the idea is to promote the use of renewable energy by richly rewarding system owners. Per-kilowatt payments for renewably produced electricity are set higher than conventional market prices for fossil-fuel-based electricity, as an incentive to add renewable energy to the grid.
In Florida there is an organization called “FARE” which stands for the Florida Alliance for Renewable Energy (www.floridaallianceforrenewableenergy.org). They are a coalition dedicated to educating Floridians about Feed-in Tariffs and other policies that promote the use of renewable energy. The United States would benefit from a national FIT law. A national FIT would encourage more renewable energy in general, create U.S. jobs, and significantly help the national effort to reduce climate changing greenhouse gas emissions…
Go Gators, Go Gainesville, Go Solar.