Tag Archives: renewables

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