At a time of economic pain and planetary peril, a renewable global powerhouse takes shape. Just when we need it most.
"Solar power's rise has been fueled by sporadic bursts of political vision and courage. The ascent begins in Japan, where in 1994 the government introduced an incentive package in which it agreed to pick up fully half the cost of every installed panel for 10 years, spurring a handful of old-guard electronics firms to go industrial -- Sharp, in particular, still the No. 2 global producer. The recent and much more robust solar boom, however, began with Germany's Renewable Energy Sources Act. The German law, passed in 2000 (and since copied from China to California), is a "feed-in tariff" that obliges electricity retailers to buy power from renewable sources at above-market rates. The rates decline by a certain percentage each year for 20 years, depending on the source, at which point grid parity is presumed to carry on the work. An overhaul in 2004 placed particular emphasis on solar: Small, rooftop installations, for example, sell electricity back to the German grid at about six times baseline prices."