Category Archives: Energy

The Future of Energy

A Lecture at Heinrich Böll Stiftung About the German Energiewende

The day began with a visit to Heinrich Böll Stiftung for a lecture about the Energiewende (German energy transition). Heinrich Böll is a political foundation that supports the Green Party in Germany. The four pillars of the Green Party are ecology, democracy, social justice, and pacifism, which includes an aversion to nuclear energy. Similar to other institutions we visited, the foundation’s funding comes from the German government, and the amount that a political foundation receives depends heavily upon how well the party does in the current election. Our presenter explained that contrary to American politics, foundations with political affiliations in Germany avoid publishing propaganda. There is a focus on political education, including networking, operating as a think tank, and releasing publications.

The logo at Heinrich Böll Stiftung, our first presentation of the day.

Students were very interested in our presenter’s experience with the Energiewende. One of the key differences with the United States is that energy is significantly more expensive in Germany. In North Carolina, energy costs about 12 cents per kilowatt-hour. In Germany, it’s about 28 cents per kilowatt-hour. However, if you produce your energy with solar panels, it’s only about half the price. Incentives such as this have greatly increased the share of renewable energy in Germany. More than 50% of the energy produced is from citizens, through initiatives such as cooperatives.

Students listen to the presentation, taking notes and thinking of thought-provoking questions.

The Heinrich Böll representative also gave us her opinion on the future of the energy transition. Now that the feed-in tariff is phasing out, putting the “true price” on energy is becoming more important than ever. In her eyes, politicians cannot use phrases such as “carbon tax,” but rather should say, “making renewable energy more affordable” or “decreasing fossil fuel subsidies.”

In her words, “Individual freedom ends where the freedom of future generations is threatened.” Citizens want change, but in a convenient way. We discussed the phrase, “Wash my hair, but don’t make me wet.” However, most German citizens are supportive of the Energiewende. They see the need for cleaner air in cities and the potential to move away from nuclear energy by increasing the share of renewables. As the speaker explained, Germans were surrounded by nuclear power on both sides during the Cold War, and are not fond of the energy source.

Our presenter, a Heinrich Böll employee who focuses on policy education.

Coal is also being phased out as part of the Energiewende. The energy transition encompasses energy, heating, and mobility. Therefore, electric cars and public transit are becoming more and more popular in Germany, and the Heinrich Böll employee expressed her own dislike for SUVs and other fossil-fuel vehicles.

Unfortunately, the transition away from the feed-in tariff means more and more small citizen initiatives will have trouble producing renewable energy. The political framework is shifting towards an auction system, where companies compete to offer the lowest bid on projects. This will favor larger corporations, in Heinrich Böll’s opinion. In the past few years, the feed-in tariff allowed cooperatives and small citizen initiatives to enter the market, guaranteeing fixed contracts for up to twenty years. Now that the policy is ending, it will be interesting how the Energiewende changes. All the students thoroughly enjoyed the presentation, and thanked the employee for her time. Then, we grabbed a coffee for the road and headed to our next appointment.

-Erin Danford

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

The Ruhr Transition

The Ruhr area has transitioned from major coal and steel production into one of the “green” guiding lights of Europe

Today, we began with a wrap-up discussion of our time in Eindhoven. We then travelled to the town of Essen, which is in the Ruhr area, which is considered the old industrial heart of Germany. There, we visited the Zollverein Industrial Complex, an old coal mine transformed into a museum and took a tour led by guide Peter Reuter. Walking up to the museum I was struck by how huge the physical infrastructure of a coal plant is.

We begin our tour by looking at a small scale version of the complex.
The building of Zollverein Industrial Complex.

Beginning in the early 19th century there was a huge steel and coal mining industry that moved into the Ruhr area. It completely industrialized the small farming area, which led to a huge economic boom. It also led to horrible pollution. In the 1950’s pollution was so bad that you could only see 17% of the sunlight on the ground during the day- they had to keep street lamps on at all times. The typical life expectancy for miners at that time was only 25 years, so they were encouraged to get married and reproduce young. This brought up an interesting point. Our guide said that industrialization led to the realization of human rights as more than a philosophical argument.

We got to look into the coal mines’ mills, which used to crush coal into smaller pieces with its own weight.
Students look at examples of the size of the coal before and after milling.

Soon, technology progressed to the point where miners were no longer needed. They became almost completely replaced by machinery, something that is continuing to happen in the coal industry in America. Misplaced miners were reeducated and highly valuable in industries similar to coal, such as steel. However, it still took time for acceptance. Many old mines were turned into event venues, art galleries or restaurants. Old miners would refuse to go to these places at first. Now they are some of the most popular venues in the Ruhr area. This was a really great example of ways to reuse old infrastructure and avoid razing and rebuilding. Many of the old railroad tracks that went to pick up coal have been repaved into bike paths and other forms of transportation infrastructure.

On the rooftop, we could see the many surrounding towns and cities making up the Ruhr area. Because they were originally small farming communities before industrialization, many don’t have a city center.
Old mines have become some of the most popular event venues in the Ruhr area.

As one of the poorest areas of Germany, many things still need to change for the Ruhr region. The outsourcing of steel in the 1980’s left many out of work. Now, much of their economy comes from the over 1 million tourists that visit the region each year. While there are still many large businesses based there, the majority of work is mechanized. Most jobs are minimum wage, and are service oriented. Despite this, there are many new initiatives that are hoping to bring more vitality to the region. The Ruhr area is incredibly diverse, thanks to the many international investors and diverse cultures that have moved there, which allows many different paths and innovation to occur there.

In 2017, Essen was given the European Green Capital Award, which is given to one European city that consistently meets environmental standards and is committed to improvement and development of sustainability. Our guide explained the way that Essen got the award as being just letting all of the plants grow nonstop, except to add biking paths and pedestrian areas, which led to trees and wildlife areas springing up everywhere. They have also completely redone their wastewater management system. Originally a manmade system of open sewers, they have converted it into enclosed underground sewers while retransforming the original water systems into near-natural bodies of water.

The 150-year transformation from polluted coal and steel industrial area into the Green Capital of Europe is inspiring and provides a beacon for cities trying to redevelop.

From Black Coal to a Green Role

A look into Essen’s history as a coal powerhouse and how the city turned green

We started out the day with a recap of the prior week we spent in The Hague and Eindhoven. We mainly discussed smart city aspects involving innovation and technological advancement. Then we made our way to Essen which contained Zollverein, the most modern coal mine in Europe during the 1930s. Many countries and coal producing regions would take visits to Zollverein to study the techniques used that made the coal mine more efficient than other mines. The facility was incredibly large and industrial. The inside housed large machines, conveyor belts, coal carts, and mine shafts. We started atop the main building overlooking the town of Essen and surrounding area. It was easy to see the vastness of the mine and understand how long it took miners to get to and from the wash station where they would start and end the day.

Overlooking a large portion of Zollverein, which was one of the most modern coal mines of the 20th century. Also pictured is some restored green space.
A view from the “ceremony place” where marriages took place in the mine. It was surprisingly common for workers to get married in the mine despite their daily involvement for work.

Next we took a look at one of the mining areas and sampled some of the tools miners used in the mines. Work techniques for breaking off coal evolved from a simple hammer and chisel to a safer more complex hammer and chisel to the jackhammer. The jackhammer was the heaviest and most dangerous tool. It kicked up a lot of dust which caused black lung and also sent workers home still shaking from the vibrations. Bad working conditions in mines was something I had known for a while but getting to see the environment out of context firsthand was startling. Eight hours a day would be spent in the mines and an additional 4-5 hours was spent traveling and washing causing many miners to just sleep in the mines for multiple days. We also learned how horses were used in the mines to carry loads of coal. Horses would stay 4-5 years at a time in stables in the mines. We concluded the visit to Zollverein by going to the loudest part of the mine where coal was dumped to lower level and sorted by workers. The noise was 118 decibels which is 2000 times louder than moderately loud speakers. Workers spent 8 hours a day here with no ear protection in shifts of 18 months at a time which left many of them practically deaf.

The loudest place in the mine. Tons of coal was dumped from here to lower levels daily at a volume of 118 decibels.
A look at some of the tools used to break off coal. Hammers and chisels were used first and then the jackhammer became more popular because of its efficiency.

Zollverein was an important part of the history of Essen and prompted us for our next small tour which was an exhibit dedicated to Essen’s prize of being Europe’s green capital of 2017. This is surprising considering throughout the 19th and 20th century the area was a major contributor to global warming. After much destruction of the environment in the 19th century Essen recognized the problem and put in conservation and restoration programs to achieve a healthier environment. The exhibit featured park plans, animal exhibits, gardens, and forest samples. Essen and the Ruhr area actually took grade pride in leading the green revolution. A lot of the initiatives have come from locals with garden initiatives. The Ruhr area also plans on putting in a cycling superhighway as a main means of transport. The main goal the greening of the Ruhr area is for all citizens to live only a couple minutes from any parks or green space. This exhibit concluded our journey for the day.

An overlook of the Essen ‘Green Capital of 2017’ exhibit. After many years of environmental destruction, the city recognized its new role in green restoration and focused an exhibit on some of the projects put in place.
Some local species on display in the Essen exhibit. Deer, bobcats, fox, squirrels, and fungus are all featured.
An overview of a park project in the exhibit. The major goal of the revitalization was to have green space within a few minutes of every citizen.

Both Zollverein and the Essen exhibit were located on the same industrial grounds which is a unique way to display the change in mindset that has occurred in the area. What used to be an industrial area has shifted to an eco friendly hub for green space. If it was not for the industrial roots and environmental degradation caused it is likely that Essen would not be the green capital of Europe. This is a prime example of how an old town has changed from high impact to low impact on the environment and maintained citizen participation. I think the US can use Essen and the Ruhr area as a guide to creating livable healthy environments from old unusable coal mines.

-Charlie Garnett

Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems: Current Research and Special Projects

A review of the Fraunhofer ISE research and special projects

The Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems ISE is the largest solar energy research institute in Europe with subsidiaries and branches reaching all over the world. Fraunhofer ISE uses application-oriented research to develop energy efficient and environmentally friendly technologies covering their five main research areas: photovoltaics, solar-thermal, building energy, hydrogen, and energy systems. In the last year, Fraunhofer ISE earned an 81.1 million Euro budget funded heavily through government grants and industry investment; this budget allows the minds at Fraunhofer to pursue groundbreaking research driving industry and competition forward.

Photovoltaics, or solar panels, produced by Fraunhofer ISE are just one of the areas in high demand from the institute. Over the years, their research has yielded products with increased efficiency, a better price to performance ratio, and overall greater stability of the final product. With changes to their silicon crystallization process and reduced thickness of their solar cell, Fraunhofer has been able to increase their cell efficiency, reduce their material use and cost per solar panel. This work known as the Laser Fired Contact Project earned the Fraunhofer Institute the prestigious Joseph von Frauberg 2016 Prize and to this day the production of 20 million of these panels. Their research with photovoltaics expands beyond the solar cell itself; the module, or casing for the cell containing the mechanics of the panel, also requires attention. Fraunhofer ISE has taken special measures to develop modules adaptable to specific areas and climates to limit module degradation and integrity. Finally, panels are subjected to a rigorous yield assessment, module accreditation, system testing, and performance verification to ensure each product meets the quality and efficacy standards affiliated with this institute.

Rooftop solar panels at the Fraunhofer Institute that are both functional and aesthetically pleasing.

Solar Thermal Technology is increasingly in high demand as homes and businesses work to combine their water and heating systems as well as harness the ability to store extra energy gained throughout the day. Research into the materials used for this technology, thermal collection and storage, and the innovative use of thermal membrane distillation for water treatment are a few of the technologies being developed by the Fraunhofer ISE.

By 2022, a directive states that all buildings must be zero energy, or produce as much energy as it uses. This directive alone has created a greater need to revolutionize the building structure including the building envelope, heating and cooling systems, thermal storage, and lighting. Through capturing and storing the heat generated by windows in the building envelope, buildings could produce a portion of their energy and save money by installing fewer rooftop solar panels. The Fraunhofer ISE currently heats their buildings through heat reclamation systems and their windows; the cooling process passes warm air through cold concrete pipes before the air enters the building. There is a large market for thermal storage today as much of the energy gained throughout the day is later lost or cannot be stored for long amounts of time in large enough quantities. By improving storage technology, businesses will more reasonably be expected to meet this energy directive.

The Fraunhofer ISE has a special relationship with the many universities in the area allowing researchers to teach their specialty at the university while also conducting research at Fraunhofer. Students have the unique opportunity to take these classes and conduct research alongside professionals. This apprenticeship program and others like it allow students to gain relevant and professional experience and a potential job in the future. Numerous faculty at Fraunhofer ISE take part in this program connecting industry with university to provide students with an in-depth look at the real world.

Students patiently await our meeting with Dr. Bruno Burger and Dr. Anne Kovach-Hebling of the Fraunhofer Institute to learn about revolutionary renewable technologies.

Aside from conducting cutting edge research on tomorrow’s technology, specialized projects such as documenting energy production also take place at the Fraunhofer ISE. Dr. Bruno Burger demonstrated his work with an impressive and comprehensive data collection website (www.energy-charts.de) that updates hourly to provide real time results on energy production in Germany. This website features everything from daily production from all energy sources to energy exports and imports to country energy comparisons. Fraunhofer ISE is doing some impressive things; whether it be researching the technology of the future or educating the next generation of brilliant minds, the Fraunhofer Institute will surely be at the forefront of innovation and a leader in revolutionary technology.

-Natalie Schuster

Fraunhofer Technologies and Goals

Renewable technologies of Fraunhofer ISE and future goals for Germany as a whole

After experiencing a typical lunch environment for the Fraunhofer employees – which involves outdoor seating, delicious cuisine, and socialization time – we had the opportunity to see some of institute’s technological inventions. When it comes to technology, Fraunhofer’s focus is on expanding electricity to all aspects of life, maximizing energy efficiency, improving devices, minimizing the cost of devices, and developing new devices to expand renewables. Employees explained fuel cells, batteries for cars, induction car chargers, and different types of devices that converted light and infrared to energy. One example of how the company improved their devices was apparent in their solar panels: a change in panel material and circuitry made it possible for solar panels to convert light to electricity within 45 seconds rather than the original conversion rate of 12 minutes! As we walked through the displayed technology, several of the company’s labs were visible, and we had the opportunity to see the general work environment at Fraunhofer. Additionally, after the indoor tour we saw both an electric and hydrogen car and their fueling stations.

This is a picture of the outdoor terrace where employees eat lunch. In this picture you can see employees socializing and enjoying the outdoor setting.
Here the outside of Fraunhofer ISE is pictured. This is the building where laboratories are located.Here the outside of Fraunhofer ISE is pictured. This is the building where laboratories are located.

In the future, electric cars are expected to take the place of fuel powered cars, and for that reason I would like to write a bit about the car technology from the company. The induction car technology and electric cars have the potential to have multiple uses. First, let me explain a bit about the chargers: induction car chargers are spiral-shaped metal devices that are placed in parking spots and used to charge electric cars. During the day, the electric car is charged. When the car returns back to the owner’s home, the energy left in the car can be used to power the owner’s home, and for that reason the car serves multiple purposes. Outside the lab, we examined an employee’s electric car. The institute has a charging station, so it was possible for the employee to charge their car during the day. The specific electric car could travel up to 200 km in the summer and 100 km in the winter: the distance the car could travel depended heavily on the outdoor temperature. The employee’s car was actually an older version of electric cars, and the newer cars can travel up to 400 km in the summer and 200 km in the winter.

Pictured here is an employee’s electric car. At Fraunhofer ISE, there is an electric car charging station. This specific car can travel 200 km during the summer and 100 km during the winter on a full tank of gas.
Pictured here is a hydrogen filling station located near Fraunhofer. Similar to the electric car pump, this station is easily accessible for Fraunhofer employees.

After learning about Fraunhofer’s technologies, we heard a bit about the institute’s vision for the future of Germany. Germany’s Energiewende project aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050. As of last year, the world reached a 1.5°C increase in temperature, and over the course of the past 20-25 years sea levels have risen by about 10 cm. These changes can be viewed as national security threats; rising sea levels cause the relocation of coastal communities and global climate change leads to weather uncertainty which in turn can destroy crops. With these global changes in mind, Fraunhofer generated graphs and goals for Germany. One graph demonstrated that if Germany continues on its current track of implementing renewable energy sources it will only reduce carbon emissions by 60%, rather than its goal of 80%. To address this issue, Fraunhofer created an hour by hour simulation of Germany’s energy usage from 2014-2050 and considered how older infrastructure could be replaced to increase energy and heat efficiency. A chart that demonstrated how much energy was needed from certain renewable energy sources from now until 2050 was also created. Based on the chart, most of Germany’s energy in the future will come from onshore wind and solar energy. Fraunhofer also generated a graph that showed the optimum combination between wind a solar energy. Currently, Germany is slightly off of the optimal path; there will need to be an increase in solar energy to meet the ideal path. Overall, the graphs and ideas generated by Fraunhofer are important for the country as a whole. With a goal that is so far in the future – such as the 2050 goal of reducing emissions – it is easy to forget that the effort put into each year is important, and the graphs help to give Germany yearly goals in addition to its overall goals.

This is a hydrogen car at Fraunhofer ISE. The sign behind the car labeled hydrogen as the energy of the future, which represented the idea that hydrogen will be a prominent energy source in the future.

The major steps that Germany is taking to reduce greenhouse gas emissions demonstrate the importance of working to reduce global climate change. At the end of the presentation, a few of us chatted about how Germany cannot be the only country in the world to make changes to reduce emissions. In the grand scheme of things, Germany is a relatively small country, and it will be important for other countries around the world to join their effort to prevent global climate change.

-Emilee Armstrong

Keeping Energy Production Local

A closer look into how small German towns are leading the way in the Energiewende

Today marks a full week of education in Germany, and the entire group has settled into our daily routine. Our first stop this morning was in a small town called Emmendingen. Emmendingen, with twenty six thousand residents, would be a relatively small town in the United States. Our Guide, Erhard Schulz, used his opening remarks to talk about the cooperative energy projects in which he was a part owner. Shortly after, he gave us a tour of two small hydroelectric power plants. The two different plants appeared similar from the outside. However, the plants had completely different systems for generating electricity, and came into existence in different ways.

The owner of a hydroelectric dam shows us different designs for dams and different ways to create electricity.
Photo by: Emily Bulla
A resident’s car in a town just outside of Freiburg. The car is strictly powered by the solar panel that is positioned on the top of the car. Besides his electric car, the resident also owns and runs six hydroelectric dams that create 1.5 million kW electricity and supply 2,000 people in the town with electricity.
Photo by: Emily Bulla

The first was Mr. Schulz’s cooperative power plant. This power plant had an interesting history. It was built in 1925 in conjunction with a larger power plant for the municipality. However, when the government wanted to shut the hydroplant down, the citizens came together and bought the plant for themselves. It has remained that way since then. The second power plant was privately held by a man in the town. Although it was held by a private entity, he financed his project with local investors. This kept the money in the community.

This is part of the first hydroelectric power plant. It uses a Francis Turbine to create electricity which draws from the vertical pressure of water.
This is the outside of the second hydroelectric plant we saw. It is important to note the fish canal at the bottom of the picture that allows the fish to still use the stream.
This is the inside of one of the hydropower plants that we saw. It uses an archimedes screw in reverse to generate power.

I would argue that this is. an interesting concept that could be studIed more in the United States. These projects had Internal Rates of Return that hovered around 6-8 percent. In the United States, any private equity investment is going to hover in the teens, so it would be unlikely to find money to scale up. By keeping it small and local, these power plants can return a lower amount of money, find enough investors, and keep that return in the community. A lot of people in the business world think that renewable energy doesn’t make sense for investors. Emmendingen is an example of how creative strategies can be used to pay for renewable energy.

Keeping it local had more than just financial benefits. They used completely different methods to create the electricity. The first plant used a Francis Turbine. It is a more common method that uses vertical water pressure to generate the electricity, and generates about 110 kilowatts. The second fan older technology that dates back to ancient times. It uses an archimedes screw in reverse to spin a turbine. This was slightly less efficient, but was better for the ecology of the stream. The fact that two plants that were less than a mile apart would use different methods seemed odd to me at first. As I thought about it more, I realized that this specialization was another major benefit of keeping it local. This small, more personalized management system allowed for these different methods to be utilized. This may not of made a huge difference in the context of the power plants. However, looking at the Energiewende as a whole, this individuality could be crucial. The world needs a strong mix of renewable energy sources to truly see a carbon free future. This small town management could be key to realizing that diversification.

This notion was further backed up by the next town we visited, Wyhl. This was the birthplace of the antinuclear movement, and the renewable energy movement. It all started by protesting a new nuclear power plant. Now, it is the fastest growing movement for energy in the world. Wyhl did not look any different than the other towns we visited mainly because it wasn’t all that different. This proved how powerful small towns can be when it’s people work together. I think it’s safe to say that the development of municipal governments and small town energy production will play a gigantic role in the completion of the Energiewende.

This picture was taken at one of the community meetings during the long fight against the Wyhl Nuclear Plant. It depicts the amount of effort that was put together by the town.
This is a small monument to the anti nuclear movement located in Wyhl. It marked the spot that the plant was supposed to be built on. Instead of the nuclear plant being built there, they now have a nature reserve for the surrounding communities to visit.
This is a poster from the Wyhl Village that represents the fight against nuclear that started in that town.
These flags, outside the anti-nuclear protest archive, are the symbols for the German people’s Energiewende movement away from nuclear and towards renewables. Photo by: Emily Bulla

-Matthew Bravante

The Hills are Alive with Wind Turbines

Facts about German Wind Turbines and the Financing

Today, our group went on a renewable energy tour. We stopped at a wind farm on the edge of the town of Freiamt in the Baden-Württemberg region of Germany. The farm has been in the Schneider family for the last 300 years. Originally, the farm hosted cows and timber, but a few years ago the farmers decided change was needed. They found milk production was labor intensive and not worth the minimal monetary return, and timber farming alone was not enough to support their farm. The farmers decided to construct wind turbines on their farm.

A fresh charcuterie tray at a farm in the countryside of Germany. The farm has been around for 300 years and the farmer prepared this delicious array of food all there at farm.

The Schnieders’ farm is situated on top the hills, 700 meters from the valley floor, and is a perfect spot for a wind turbine. The farmers entered into business with a cooperative to help finance the project. The cooperative gathered people interested in investing in wind power and becoming co-owners of wind turbines. The co-op was very successful and collected enough money from the now co-owners to build the wind turbine. The turbine was constructed in 2001 within a week. The project as a whole cost around 2 million euros, and required each co-owner to invest 3,000 to 20,000 euros. Now, the turbine creates 2.7 million kilowatts of electricity per year. The energy is then sold to the grid and supplies 19,000 people with energy for the year. The farmers’ decision paid off financially, they now receive income from renting out their land to the co-op and since they are co-owners as well they receive money from the energy sold to the grid.

One of the four wind turbines we saw today. This turbine’s name is Helga and was constructed in 2001. The turbine cost two million euros and is co-owned by 142 people.

Since the first turbine was such a success, the farm rented out their land and became co-owners of another, larger turbine. The newer wind turbine is only a few years old. The turbine stands 135 meters tall and the blades have a diameter of 82 meters, for comparison, the turbine built in 2001 is 85 meters high with a diameter of 70 meters. The extra height and area of the blades allow the larger turbine to create more energy. The larger turbine did cost more, around 3.7 million euros. The same cooperative also helped finance the turbine with 193 co-owners. The leader of the cooperative said they never had any trouble trying to finance a wind turbine and in this case, they had 40 investors they had to turn down because they had met their monetary goal. He stated the return on investment was around 6%, and although this is low he said it was easy to get investors after the global recession because investors were looking for less risky investments.

Another of the wind turbines we saw today. The tower is 85 meters and the rotor blades have a diameter of 70 meters.

This wind farm was incredible to me. I found it fascinating that one wind turbine could power so many homes, that each turbine was basically silent, and all the farmers and other co-owners were so invested in transitioning to renewable energy. Hearing the farmers’ story and the leader of the cooperative talk about the ease of building and using a wind turbine made me think about how behind America is on changing our ways. American politics and large lobbies have truly held the United States back from allowing independent partnerships help provide renewable energy to citizens. But, the same is seen in Germany with large lobbies and politicians pushing away from renewable energy, however, they have citizens that wanted to make a change and did so. Now, it is the United States’ citizens’ turn to realize the harmful effects of non-renewables and have the initiative to create change just like the Schnieders.

-Emily Bulla

Energy in Schonau

 

The Anti-Nuclear movement has led to renewable growth

For the second half of the day, we visited the EWS (Elektrixitätswerke Schönau) in Schönau, Germany. To get there, we took a bus towards the Black Forest. We walked into a building with solar panels covering the roof, and immediately started a lecture with one of the anti-nuclear activists, who now works at EWS. She presented to us many of the arguments against nuclear power that began the entire Energiewende movement in Germany. It was really interesting to hear about how the Chernobyl disaster affected the Germans, and through that, their energy policy.

The sun shines on Schönau, Germany. We had a walking tour after our discussion, and were shown wind turbines and a small hydroelectric plant, as well as the original offices of EWS.

The clouds from Chernobyl rolled into Germany and across Europe, leaving effects that still hurt people today. Nuclear resistance was reinforced by the Fukishima disaster. Now they are in the process of completely phasing out nuclear plants.

Chernobyle and Fukishima made it clear to many in Germany that nuclear disasters leave a hole on the earth that is basically non-recoverable for many lifetimes, not to mention the impact on human lives. The anti-nuclear movement has more subtle reasoning behind it than just the risks of a nuclear disaster, as well. Nuclear power plant waste can be used to create nuclear bombs, so many believe that one of the reasons governments push for nuclear is so that they can use that funding to go into the military.

We also discussed that there are a lot of public relations efforts vastly impacting how people feel about nuclear energy. With more public relations in the United States, and more money put into lobbying, we are much more open to the idea of nuclear energy than they might be here in Germany. These public relations efforts are also starting to affect Germany, and their energy policies are beginning to shift.

After the lecture, we were shown around a few of the faciliites and the town of Schonau. The EWS has a hydroelectric plant just down the road from their headquarters. There were windmills in the distance that power many homes.

During our tour, we were shown the original building of the EWS. We also discussed and passed some restaurants on the walk that were very supportive of renewables because of the aforementioned opposition to nuclear. We were also told many stories of the original protests to nuclear. One of the founders of the EWS smuggled a piece of paper into the white house to attempt to persuade former President Obama to turn away from nuclear. The EWS and anti-nuclear advocates have gone door to door asking people to vote against nuclear energy and for their own causes.

-Aubrey Patti