A View from Kevin Bullis

Building Solar in Spain Instead of Germany Could Save Billions

Building solar and wind projects in the wrong place is wasting billions of dollars in Europe.

Siemens says it would make sense to build solar power plants in sunny countries in Europe rather than in cloudy ones. And wind turbines should be built in windy places.

These blindingly obvious suggestions run contrary to what’s actually happening. For example, a solar panel in Spain generates about twice as much electricity as the same-size solar panel in Germany because the sun shines on it more (here’s an graphic). But last year nearly half of all solar panels installed in Europe were installed in Germany, and only a small fraction were installed in Spain (see “The Great German Energy Experiment”).

Siemens calculates that if you were to install solar panels and wind turbines where the natural resources are best, and then string power lines to convey to the power to where it’s needed, you could save about $60 billion dollars by 2030 because you could install fewer of them. That savings figure accounts for the cost of the power lines (see “Supergrids”).

Europe isn’t the only place where solar is taking off in strange places. One of the major markets for solar power in the U.S. is New Jersey, which gets far less sun than the southwest U.S., but has policies that favor solar power.