Fox News is claiming that the future of solar power in the U.S. is “dim” because we have less sunlight than countries like Germany, the current world leader in solar generation. But Fox has completely reversed the facts: the U.S. receives far more direct sunlight, but has been outperformed due to Germany's superior solar policies.
On Fox & Friends, co-host Gretchen Carlson claimed that the U.S. solar “industry's future looks dim.” The show brought on Fox Business reporter Shibani Joshi, who said that Germany's solar industry is doing “great” because “they've got a lot more sun than we do,” before adding, “In California, it's a great solution, but here on the East Coast it's just not going to work.”
The U.S. is lagging behind Germany in solar power generation, but it doesn't have anything to do with our solar potential. In fact, the Southwest has “among the best photovoltaic resources in the world,” according to a report by GTM Research. Even the East Coast states have greater solar potential than Germany, as illustrated by this map from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory:
But while Germany gets relatively little sunlight, it does have a more coherent national solar policy than the U.S., as Bloomberg Businessweek reported in October 2012:
Unlike the U.S., Germany has a national solar policy, a quick, inexpensive permitting process, and a national mandate that utilities sign up rooftop installations under what's known as a feed-in tariff--essentially a long-term contract whereby the utilities agree not just to allow the solar on their grids but also to buy the excess power from consumers.
While Joshi argued that the government should not invest in solar because the industry has not proven it can “take the training wheels off,” the U.S. solar industry has actually made great strides. A late 2012 report from the Energy Information Administration found that solar capacity nearly doubled in 2011, part of a consistent growth trend over the past few years. And the price of solar is falling at a rate that could make it as cheap as our current electricity by 2020. An industry jobs census from the Solar Foundation found that solar employment has grown 27 percent since 2010, and a Brookings report found that solar jobs growth far outpaced that of the economy at large between 2003 and 2010.
UPDATE (2/11/13): Joshi writes at FoxNews.com: “I incorrectly stated that the chief difference between the U.S. and Germany's success with solar installations had to do with climate differences on a 'Fox and Friends' appearance on Feb. 7. In fact, the difference come down more to subsidies and political priorities and has nothing to with sunshine.”