But Germany’s Renewable Energy Act has given that phrase a whole new meaning. I’ve discovered that you can get paid for capturing the sun’s energy on your roof, converting it into CO2-free electricity with the help of special equipment, and feeding it into the grid — and watch the investment yield handsome long-term returns.
The German feed-in tariff system is as simple as it is successful – which is probably why Germany produces as much solar power as the rest of the world combined. German utilities are obliged under the Renewable Energy Act to pay above-market feed-in tariffs to producers of photovoltaic or wind energy for a period of 20 years. Germany will add up to 3 gigawatt of PV electricity this year.
Two years ago, after writing this feature on why Germany leads the world in photovoltaic electricity production despite being covered by clouds half the time, I decided to crack open my piggy bank and borrow some money on top of that to invest in a modest 6.8 kWp solar power system for my roof (below left). I added a carport (above right) so that I could put up more solar panels.
The system cost a total of 30,000 euros and it produces about 5,000 kilowatt hours of electricity each year. More importantly, that saves about 2,700 kg of CO2 emissions. The 5,000 kWh is about 500 kWh a year more than we use. The local utility is required to buy those 5,000 kWh of CO2-free electricity that spin through a meter and into the grid from me at 49 cents per kilowatt for a fixed 20-year period. I buy about 4,500 kWh back each year at the current market rate of about 18 cents per kWh. That amounts to about 2,400 euros of revenue per year, with monthly payments from the utility peaking at about 500 euros in June. (I pay a separate 70 euros per month to the utility for the electricity we use).