Tag Archives: energiewende

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

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