Stadiums and Solar Power

When you think of European soccer, maybe you think of hooligans and rowdies. You probably don?t think of solar power. The Bundesliga?s soccer season started this past weekend in Germany. On Saturday I had the good fortune of attending a Werder Bremen game (without apologies to Bayern M├╝nchen fans). Other than the decisive victory over 1. FC Kaiserslautern, the most impressive thing of the day was Werder?s stadium, Weser Stadion, which has been remodeled to become a solar energy?generating station. Some 200,000 photovoltaic cells have been incorporated into the stadium?s east and south sides and its partial roof. These cells produce enough electricity to run 300 households. Indeed, the electricity not used by the stadium is sold to consumers. Through a combination of photovoltaic cells and efficiencies gained from a micro-gas turbine, Weser Stadion expects to reduce its energy consumption by 12 to 78 percent.

That Werder Bremen?s stadium should become a solar electricity plant is all the more remarkable given Bremen?s notoriously gray and wet weather. But Bremen was also the first German federal state where the Greens were elected to parliament in 1979. And it has been governed for the past sixty-four years by the SPD, and for the last four years by a Red (SPD)-Green coalition, renewed after state elections in May.

In the United States, energy subsidies have supported fossil-fuel production to the detriment of renewables. According to a study of the Environmental Law Institute, in the first seven years of the twenty-first century, U.S. subsidies for fossil fuels amounted to approximately $72 billion, compared to $29 billion for renewable fuels, with the majority of that amount directed toward the dubious project of corn-based ethanol production.

Germany continues to subsidize coal mining (even though the industry employs just 20,000 workers these days) and has pledged to continue to do so till 2018, four years longer than the European Commission has called for. But despite its subsidies for coal, the German federal government has for several years been committed to increasing the use of renewable energy. In 2009 alone, the solar energy?generating capacity of the country grew by 66 percent over the previous year. The commitment is visible. Traveling around Germany, I have been struck by the presence of photovoltaic cells on the tops of barns in the countryside and houses in little villages. These are the fruits of an energy policy, in particular a law enacted in 2000, that has established feed-in tariffs that ensure the profitability of renewable energy production through guaranteed contracts at higher rates. Even so, average household energy costs have only modestly increased.

Europe overall has ten times the installed solar capacity of the United States. Given their comparative geography?the vast expanses of desert in the American southwest that Europe lacks?the difference is remarkable. Clearly government policy, not geography and not the free market, makes all the difference in directing a country?s energy policy toward renewables. Until the subsidy priorities of U.S. energy policy are dramatically changed, I?d wager that the stadiums of Los Angeles, Anaheim, San Diego, and Phoenix will not be transformed into solar power plants.

Image: Gr├╝neFraktionBayern, 2011, Wiki. Com.