As of May, 2011, Germany has about 18,000 Megawatts of power generated by photovoltaic panels. This makes Germany easily the #1 user of solar panels. It is reported that this is more power output than the 6 reactors at Japan’s Fukushima nuclear site were producing when it went down from the tsunami. Although this sounds great for alternative power proponents, there is a lively discussion on the pros and cons of providing the resources for producing this much solar energy. These high output figures are only produced during ideal conditions such as during full sun being directly overhead. There is no output at night! On the other hand, the peak demand for electricity is usually during daylight hours. Storage of solar power is also in question. Batteries can be used or daytime electricity can be used to pump water to higher elevations so it can be used to spin turbine generators during the night.
Based on figures presented on the discussion boards, the cost of solar power seems to be about 10 times the cost of nuclear power, all things considered. Actually though, there are a number of factors that cannot carry a price tag but are important to consider. If a natural disaster destroys a massive solar panel array, there would be a large economic loss along with an extensive cleanup of materials. In this case, there would be no radiation involved. The destruction of a nuclear facility would not only involve a large economic loss, but we would have to deal with radiation leaks and the disposal of radioactive material. Proper engineering design and the design of new types of reactors could mitigate these nuclear related problems. The arguments go back and forth. It looks to me that there is a place for both technologies along with others such as wind, geothermal, hydro power.
A new technology always spawns new opportunities for jobs. In March of 2006, Germany had 30,000 jobs related to the solar power industry. I’m sure the number has increased by now. Technological advances will also change the scenario. One comment was that by 2018, the cost of solar power will be on par with the cost of power from fossil fuels due to the rising cost of fossil fuels and the falling cost of solar generated power. I am glad to see Germany as least try to give solar power an opportunity to prove itself. How else can we learn the advantages and pitfalls of massive solar power generation without trying it. I for one, wish them luck with their experiment.