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Germany

Germany Blazes Trail For Solar Industry

Munich-based Shell Solar and the Berlin company Geosol have announced that construction is underway on the world's largest solar energy plant. The move is one of many indications Germany is taking solar power seriously.

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The Espenhain solar plant will be the world's biggest.

The pioneering five-megawatt plant in Espenhain south of Leipzig is expected to begin operation as early as July, supplying some 1,800 homes and replacing emissions of up to 3,700 tons of carbon dioxide per year.

Speaking at the European Conference for Renewable Energy in Berlin this week, German Environment Minister Jürgen Trittin declared that Germany should aim to make its solar industry the world's No. 1. It's already well on track at No. 3, trailing the United States and Japan. While Germany's Environment Ministry commits around €27 million a year to photovoltaics research, both the U.S. and Japan contribute €75 million each.

Trittin stressed that science and industry were now joining forces to make Germany greener, observing that "developing renewable energy sources creates jobs with a future, protects the environment and strengthens Germany's industrial clout." The minister went on to predict that by 2006, the number of people working in the solar industry will have increased from 10,000 to 25,000.

Joachim Luther of the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems pointed out another advantage. "By 2005 solar energy will account for some 30 percent of global electricity consumption," he said. Luther added that he believed the focus should be on developing solar energy systems in developing countries, where their use could help tackle poverty.

A growth industry

Gerhard Styri-Hipp, CEO of the German Association for Solar Industry, recently revealed that the German solar sector predicts double-digit growth rates in 2004, with current legislation giving businesses enough investment security to prompt even further growth. Styri-Hipp also pointed out that thanks to last November's new legislation on photovoltaics, the technology used to obtain electricity from solar energy, Germany is now one of the most attractive international markets for solar energy plants. The government is funding research aimed at developing smaller and more-efficient solar cells.

The originators of "Intersolar 2004" trade fair, which will take place in Freiburg from 24–26 June, has also noted evidence of a positive trend. Organizers are expecting 280 stalls from over 20 countries, with 85 percent of the 15,000 meter square exhibition space booked out months in advance.

Germany in the dock

But it's not all good news. The European Commission has announced it will be taking Germany to the European Court of Justice because Berlin has failed to keep to its obligations on improving air quality.

The Commission will also be taking legal action against another eight member states, including Belgium, Italy, Greece, Portugal, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Austria and Spain.

The proceedings relate to the failure of these countries to meet the agreed deadline of November 2002 for adopting national measures implementing EU laws on air quality limit values for benzene and carbon monoxide and national emission ceilings for sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, volatile organic compounds and ammonia and large combustion plants.

According to Germany's Environment Ministry, the EU laws are, in fact, well on their way to being realized, with Jürgen Trittin predicting they will have been implemented by June 2004.

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