The German government will not guarantee that existing rules for feed-in tariffs for photovoltaic solar power will be continued after 2012, environment minister Norbert Roettgen announced recently.

Germany’s renewable energy law (EEG) is due to come under review next year, so any fundamental changes will take effect in 2012. Owing to unprecendented growth in the sector, the centre-right government added an unscheduled reduction in feed-in tariffs for photovoltaic energy in the middle of 2010 and the tariffs – the prices utilities are obliged to pay generators of renewable energy – will (due to another year of steep growth) fall again in 2011.

Asked if he could guarantee that the current rules on tariffs would be kept in place after the review, Roettgen said: “No. We’re in talks with the solar power sector…” Roettgen said. “We should be able to come to a reasonable further development.”

Feed in tariffs are the sector’s investment lifeline so long as grid parity – the point at which renewables cost the same to the consumer as fossil fuel-based power – has not been reached.

The tariffs have made Germany the world’s top market for solar PV power, accounting for half of all 2009 installations in the 18 billion euro global market. About half of the world’s solar electricity is produced in Germany thanks to the subsidy, which is guaranteed to a generator for a period of 20 years following the first export to the grid.

Roettgen said the expansion of the solar was moving forward so quickly that it was important to talk about the issues. “Those who want renewable energy should keep in mind that there is a need for society’s acceptance of it,” he said. Some members of parliament have said they want the feed-in tariffs cut further than planned in 2012. The government cut the feed-in tariffs for photovoltaic power by a further 16 percent this year on top of the 10 percent annual reduction already provided for in the Energy law.

The growing popularity of solar and wind power has also drawn criticism from consumer groups and some politicians, who complain the expansion of renewable energy costs consumers about 13 billion euros per year.G