Home Grown Juice

Craig Morris and Nathan Hopkins

Georg Schürer lives in a suburb of Freiburg, a 900-year-old city perched on the fringe of Germany’s Black Forest. Herr Schürer’s house, sturdy and comfortable, is fairly indistinguishable from the others surrounding it in the Vauban community. The three-story townhouse has large south-facing, tripleglazed windows, a small garden, a shed—and solar panels covering the entire southern exposure of the roof.

While Freiburg is held to be the warmest city in Germany, the country is hardly famed for its sunniness. Yet the solar panels on Schürer’s roof are not all that unusual, thanks to a German energy policy called “feed-in tariffs” (FITs). FITs have democratized energy policy, allowing both ordinary homeowners and corporations to invest directly in renewables. The United States also has policies to promote renewables, but they have largely favored utilities, shutting out the little guy.

Though some German solar power plants, scattered from Saarbrücken to Saxony, are the size of football fields, the average solar installation in 2006 only had around 20 panels, each the size of a small tabletop. Clearly, Germany’s leadership in solar energy stems not just from large utility plants but from the roofs of ordinary homeowners like Georg Schürer.