Bunkers, Landfills, and Energy. (oh my!)

This afternoon in Hamburg, we explored several converted sites that now produce renewable energy.

After our lunch in the Mensa at the Department of Urban Planning and the Environment on Wilhelmsberg (an island created by a fork in the River Elbe), we traveled to the Energiebunker, a former WWII air raid bunker that has been converted into a renewable energy power plant. It was built in 1943 using 80,000 tons of concrete and offered shelter for over 30,000 Hamburg residents. In 1947, British Allied troops demolished the interior of the bunker. The building remained unused for over 60 years, but in 2010 the rubble inside was cleared and rehabilitated as part of the International Building Exhibition (IBA). Then in 2013, a terrace on the eighth floor was opened to the public. The building has a 1300m2 south-oriented solar shell with a 99KW peak. The panels on the roof produce thermal solar energy, while those on the side produce power. The bunker has other renewable efforts: a biogas CHP-unit produces power and heat, an ongoing woodchip-plant project produces heat, and the waste heat of nearby industry is stored in the bunker’s natural gas boilers (capacity: 2 million Liters) and supplies the local heat grid. The grid has a radius of about .5km, providing heat to 3000 households and electricity to 1000 households. The project cost 27 million Euro total: 15 for refurbishment and 12 for the energy concept. Hamburg took the initiative to convert a WWII Nazi bunker into a sustainable energy plant. Looking forward, Hamburg.

Next, we went to the Energieberg. Like the Energiebunker, this landfill was converted to a renewable energy production area. We watched an epic video presentation that made waste management appealing. The story begins in 1945, when a mountain of rubble was compiled from destroyed towns. It was called Georgswerder. Four years later, it became a waste dump for nearby manufacturers. In the ‘50s and ‘60s, no one was worried about what this waste heap could morph into… In 1954, Germany won the World Cup; in 1961, the Berlin Wall was erected; in 1962, one third to a half of Wilhelmsberg flooded; in 1963, JFK was assassinated; In 1969, man landed on the moon. So, in 1967, when dioxin was being produced in Hamburg, no one thought anything of it. Even when the hazardous waste was dumped at Georgswerder. “The waste will absorb the toxins” was the general sentiment. But as the most poisonous chemical humans have created, dioxin is 10,000 times more poisonous than cyanide. Birth defects affected villages in the vicinity and people became incredibly sick. The toxin was found in seven different locations. Finally, in 1984, the hazardous mound was covered and the toxin was contained so it could no longer seep into the groundwater. This transformation was only possible because of people’s efforts and cries for a safer environment. Something we could use more of in the US – citizen involvement. The site was publically opened in 2011, with solar and wind providing energy for 4000 household (20% of Wilhelmsberg).

Our last stop was a house owned by Conrad, a friend of our guide. The house is a multi-family home with shared cars, solar energy, and a 20-KW CHP unit. They have 2 Tesla batteries that store the energy throughout the day, and use that energy for the home and car charging. Excess solar energy can be sold to the grid at 12 Eurocents/KWh, and extra CHP-produced energy can be sold at a range of 4-6 Eurocent/KWh. Perhaps what is even more interesting is that Conrad owns a wind park. Or a part of it. He and six neighbors started the project and others from adjacent villages invested. Conrad’s wind park contains twelve 3-MW turbines, producing 100 million KWh/year for 25,000 households. Wind energy is not taboo here, as it is in some US states. In some parts of North Carolina, people of resisting the energy transition. It is almost a German right to own part of a wind park. Now, we just need to bring this mindset back to the US.

-Kaitlyn Ave’Lallemant