Fox News Claims Solar Won't Work in America Because It's Not Sunny Like Germany

Future Tense
The Citizen's Guide to the Future
Feb. 7 2013 7:25 PM

Fox News Claims Solar Won't Work in America Because It's Not Sunny Like Germany

It's always sunny in Germany
Just another sun-soaked afternoon in Pillnitz, eastern Germany.

Photo by Matthias Hiekel/AFP/Getty Images

Thanks to Fox News and its expert commentators, millions of Americans now understand the real, hidden reason why Germany's solar-energy industry is so much further along than ours. Turns out it has nothing to do with the fact that Germany's government has long supported the industry far more generously, with policies like feed-in tariffs that stimulate investment in green technologies. No, the real reason is much simpler, explained a trio of journalists on Fox & Friends: It's always sunny in Germany!

Will Oremus Will Oremus

Will Oremus is Slate's senior technology writer.

[Also on Slate: Read an exclusive profile of Aaron Swartz]

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"The industry's future looks dim," intoned host Gretchen Carlson at the beginning of the segment, which was preserved for posterity by the liberal blog Media Matters for America. She and her co-host went on to ridicule Obama's "failed" solar subsidies, adding, "The United States simply hasn't figured out how to do solar cheaply and effectively. You look at the country of Germany, it's working out great for them." Near the end of the segment, it occurred to Carlson to ask her expert guest, Fox Business reporter Shibani Joshi, why it might be that Germany's solar-power sector is doing so much better. "What was Germany doing correct? Are they just a smaller country, and that made it more feasible?" Carlson asked.

Joshi's jaw-dropping response: "They're a smaller country, and they've got lots of sun. Right? They've got a lot more sun than we do." In case that wasn't clear enough for some viewers, Joshi went on: "The problem is it's a cloudy day and it's raining, you're not gonna have it." Sure, California might get sun now and then, Joshi conceded, "but here on the East Coast, it's just not going to work."

Gosh, why hasn't anyone thought of that before? Wouldn't you think that some scientist, somewhere, would have noticed that the East Coast is far less sunny than Central Europe and therefore incapable of producing solar power on the same scale?

You would—if it were true. As Media Matters' Max Greenberg notes, it isn't. Not even remotely. According to maps put out by the U.S. Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory, virtually the entirety of the continental United States gets more sun than even the sunniest part of Germany. In fact, NREL senior scientist Sarah Kurtz said via email, "Germany's solar resource is akin to Alaska's," the U.S. state with by far the lowest annual average of direct solar energy.

Solar resources: United States, Germany, Spain
A map of the relative direct solar-energy availability in the United States, Spain, and Germany. Red = highest, purple = lowest.

Illustration courtesy of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory

I look forward to Fox News' correction. Meanwhile, enjoy toggling between the video above and the map below and shaking your head.

Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University.

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