PBS aired an interesting show on solar power. It’s called Saved by the Sun, and it’s part of the NOVA programs. The show discussed innovative approaches to making solar energy part of the power production landscape. One approach is that of Germany, where solar power is subsidized by the government. While subsidies cost taxpayer money (electricity is more expensive in Germany than in other European countries), in this case they have several beneficial effects. First of all, solar panels are now cheaper, due to the fact that many more are being manufactured to keep up with the demand in Germany. The demand is there because the subsidies make sure that investing in solar power pays off. Germans also benefit from the jobs created (about 140,000) and of course from the intellectual property generated by the solar energy companies which will likely be leaders in the field for a while.
Sun Edison, a US company, takes a different approach. They offer a way for companies and government agencies to install solar panels without having to foot the up-front costs. Instead, Sun Edison pays for the installation, while the customer agrees to buy the electricity produced by the panels at a set price for a period of time (e.g. for 20 years). The customer has little up-front expenses and it can count on stable prices for a long period of time. Sun Edison also does well, since it knows what its costs and income will be for the same long period of time.
Let’s hope we see more examples like these soon.