German renewable energy leaves coal behind

German renewable energy leaves coal behind | 06/12/14
Originally published at johnbrianshannon.com by John Brian Shannon John Brian Shannon

Germany, a thriving economic powerhouse under the Chancellorship of Angela Merkel, is also a renewable energy superstar and a country that is loaded with potential.

Lately, the Germans have taken a break from aggressively adding renewable energy to their grid by ending a lucrative feed-in-tariff (FiT) subsidy program that ramped-up the adoption of solar, wind and biomass installations across the country.

Not that these so-called ‘lucrative’ subsidies approached anywhere near what fossil fuel and nuclear power plant operators receive and have received since the postwar period began, as all energy in Germany (like most countries) is heavily subsidized by taxpayers but only the (much smaller) renewable energy subsidies get the headlines. Go figure.

Chancellor Angela Merkel made the courageous decision to accelerate the shutdown Germany’s nuclear power plants in the aftermath of the Fukushima disaster in 2011 after stress tests of German nuclear power plants showed safety concerns existed within their nuclear fleet. She ushered in meaningful FiT subsidies to speed the German Energiewende program towards its goal of transition to renewable energy and greater energy efficiency — which had received only sporadic subsidies prior to Merkel.

Snapshot of the German Energiewende program

  • A popular Germany-only program to move towards a highly industrialized, sustainable green economy
  • Full phase-out of nuclear energy by 2022
  • 80-95% reduction in greenhouse gases by 2050
  • Minimum of 80% renewables in the power sector
  • 50% increase in energy efficiency by 2050

Germany’s utility companies haven’t seen change like this since WWII. After a century of serving conventionally-generated electrical power to a captive electricity market — approximately 1/3 of all German electricity is now generated via renewable energy if you include nuclear, biomass and hydro-power. That’s historic change by any standard.

Germany-renewable-energy-power-capacity at October 29, 2014 Fraunhofer Institute image
Germany renewable energy power total installed capacity at October 29, 2014. This is not how much electricity Germany actually used — it represents how much total capacity exists in the German electricity grid when all power plants are running at their full rated capacity. Image courtesy of the Fraunhofer Institute. © Fraunhofer ISE

Although solar panel outputs are lower during the winter months, over the late spring and summer of 2014 renewable energy generated more than 75% of total demand on many of those days. Not bad, for 5 years of relatively minor renewable energy subsidy euros provided by a (now ended) Feed-in-Tariff!

Germany renewable energy generation for the first 10 months of 2014 courtesy of the Fraunhofer Institute
This chart shows how much electricity was actually produced by each type of energy in Germany for the first 10 months of 2014. Some of this energy was exported to nearby nations as a cash-on-delivery export. Image courtesy of the Fraunhofer Institute. © Fraunhofer ISE

Another benefit of the switch to renewable energy was the added billions of euros of economic activity generated annually by European solar panel and wind manufacturing companies like Vestas, SolarWorld, Siemens, ABB, and the jobs created for hundreds of SME renewable energy installation companies in the country.

Exports of German solar panels and wind turbines went through the stratosphere — once Germany proved to the world that solar and wind could replace lost nuclear power generation capacity at a much lower cost than building new, multi-billion euro, nuclear or coal-fired power plants with their massive footprint on the land and their obscene water usage levels.

Germany renewable energy power generation change (in absolute terms) for the first 10 months of 2014 compared to the first 10 months of 2013. Image courtesy of the Fraunhofer Institute
Germany renewable energy power generation change (in absolute terms) for the first 10 months of 2014 when compared to the first 10 months of 2013. Image courtesy of the Fraunhofer Institute. © Fraunhofer ISE

For Germany, installing their own solar, wind and biomass power plants proved to the world that large-scale renewable energy could add huge capacity to a nation’s electrical grid and that different types of renewable energy could work together to balance the over-hyped ‘intermittency problem’ of renewable energy.

It turns out that in Germany, during the long, hot days of summer when solar panels are putting out their maximum power the wind actually tapers off, but at night the wind blows at a very reliable rate. Karmic bonus! That about covers the summer months.

During the winter months in Germany, the wind blows day and night, adding significant amounts of reliable power to the national grid.

Germany solar and wind energy are complementary, helping to stabilize the German electricity grid without adding pollution to the air. Image courtesy of the Fraunhofer Institute
Germany solar and wind energy are complementary, helping to stabilize the German electricity grid without adding any pollution to the air. Chart shows actual output for the first 10 months of 2014. Image courtesy of the Fraunhofer Institute. © Fraunhofer ISE

And now, all of that renewable energy capacity is operating without FiT subsidy — quite unlike the coal, nuclear, and oil and gas power generation in the country which require huge and ongoing subsidies every day of the year to continue operations. That’s every day since 1946, meine Freunde!

Also a factor with coal-fired power plants are the massive healthcare spending to combat the adverse health effects of fossil fuel burning/air pollution on humans and animals, on the agriculture sector. And the hugely expensive security infrastructure necessary to preclude theft of nuclear materials and nuclear related terror attacks.

While the rest of Europe (with the exception of notables like Norway, Sweden and Luxembourg) wallowed in recession or near-recession since 2008, the German economic powerhouse not only set global export records year-on-year, it bailed-out numerous other EU economies like Greece, Spain, Portugal, Italy and others, and began an unprecedented domestic renewable energy program. And now, Germany is an electricity net exporter.

That’s heady stuff, even for this industrious nation of 82 million.

Germany imports and exports of electricity 2001-2014. Image courtesy of the Fraunhofer Institute
Germany imports and exports of electricity 2001-2014. Germany exported a record 33.8 TeraWatt hours of electricity in 2013 for truckloads of cold, hard cash. Image courtesy of the Fraunhofer Institute. © Fraunhofer ISE

Where to next?

Not only has Germany added many TeraWatt hours (TWh) of clean, renewable energy to its electrical grid to replace lost nuclear power generation, it is now an electricity net exporter — raking in millions of euros per year at present — and make that an electricity exporting superpower if they ever decide to revive their now defunct Feed-in-Tariff subsidy for renewable energy.

Replacing coal with renewable energy in Germany:

If Germany revived the previous FiT regime for 5 years, *all brown coal electrical power generation* could be eliminated within 10 years.

If Germany revived the previous FiT regime for 10 years, *all brown coal and black coal electrical power generation* could be eliminated within 10 years.

Replacing coal with renewable energy in Germany would save millions of Germans, Polish, Swiss, Austrians and others living downwind of German smokestacks from breathing toxic coal-fired air pollution. Think of the health care savings and the taxes involved to support this. Some people believe that the health care savings alone could far exceed the cost of any FiT subsidy.

Not only that, but as a result of leaving coal behind, historic buildings, concrete bridges and roadways would require less maintenance to repair the spalling caused by the acid rain from coal burning. Additionally, Germany would save the millions of litres of water consumed annually by the coal industry.

Replacing coal with renewable energy in Germany would create thousands more jobs for solar, wind, and biomass manufacturing and construction, the agriculture sector would begin to show ever-improving crop outputs and importantly, leave clean air to breathe for tourists, expats and German citizens!

A note about (renewable energy) Hybrid power plants

So-called Hybrid power plants offer the best of both worlds in the renewable energy space by providing plenty of electricity day and night. This Hybrid power plant uses solar panels and wind turbines, while others can incorporate biomass or hydro-electricity dams, along with wind or solar, or both.
Hybrid power plants offer the best of both worlds providing balanced electricity generation, day and night.

An energy policy stroke of genius for Germany could come in the form of a new subsidy (a FiT or other type of subsidy) that could be offered to promote the installation of Hybrid power plants — whereby 30% of electricity generated at a given power plant site would come from solar and the balance could come from any combination of wind, biomass, or hydro-electric generation. (30% solar + 70% various renewable = 100% of total per site output)

As long as all of the electrical power generation at such a site is of the renewable energy variety and it all works to balance the intermittency of solar power, then it should receive automatic approval for the (hereby proposed) Energiewende Hybrid Power Plant subsidy.

When all the different types of renewable energy work in complementary fashion on the same site, energy synergy (the holy grail of the renewable energy industry) will be attained.

More jobs, billions of euros worth of electricity exports to the European countries bordering Germany, lower health care spending, less environmental damage and better agricultural outputs — all at a lower subsidy level than coal and nuclear have enjoyed every year since 1946 — are precisely why Germans should renew their commitment to renewable energy.

Seriously, what’s not to like?

Bonus energy graphic shows the various kinds of energy extant in Germany at the end of 2014.

How goes the Energiewende, Germany? Es geht gut! Image courtesy of the Fraunhofer Institute.
How goes the Energiewende, Germany? Es geht gut! Image courtesy of the Fraunhofer Institute.

Recommended Articles:

Why Are U.S. Solar Soft Costs Higher Than Germany’s?

by Rocky Mountain Institute Koben Calhoun & Jesse Morris.

Solar Cost Price Comparison
Solar Power Soft Cost Price Comparison between the U.S. and Germany.

Originally published on RMI Outlet.

RMI’s new report with Georgia Tech details U.S. installation cost reduction opportunities

Download the full report, Reducing Solar PV Soft Costs: A Focus on Installation Labor.

A recent Deutsche Bank report projects global newly installed photovoltaic (PV) capacity will reach 50 GW annually in 2014, a roughly 50-percent increase over anticipated new installed capacity during 2013. Germany’s been the longtime undisputed champion of solar deployment, with 35.2 GW of installed capacity as of November 1, though the installation pace lead has shifted in 2013 to Japan. But the U.S. is accelerating—and is expected to install 4.4 GW of solar this year, about the same absolute amount as the Japanese and more than the Germans.

This growth is impressive, but if the U.S. is to transition to the low-carbon, resilient, and sustainable electricity system of the future outlined in RMI’s Reinventing Fire, we need to install four times more solar capacity annually than we’re currently doing, for the next forty-odd years, with most of the installs coming in the distributed market (residential and commercial rooftops). If we’re going to do that, we need to make distributed solar cheaper, and do so quickly.

PV SOFT COSTS NOW DOMINATE THE EQUATION

Between 2008 and 2012, the price of sub-10-kilowatt (mainly residential) rooftop systems decreased 37 percent. However, over 80 percent of that cost decline is attributed to decreasing solar PV module costs. With module and other hardware prices expected to level off in the coming years (and in the near term, actually increase), further market growth will be highly dependent on additional reductions in the remaining “Balance of System” costs, otherwise known as “soft costs.”

Soft costs account for 50–70 percent of the total cost of a rooftop solar system in the U.S. today. These soft costs include installation labor; permitting, inspection, and interconnection; customer acquisition; and other costs (margin, financing costs, and additional fixed administrative and other transactional cost). Setting aside those “other” costs, soft costs for U.S. residential systems are around $1.22 per watt of PV, while German soft costs average $0.33 per watt. That’s one heck of a spread. How does Germany do it, and how can U.S. installers approach or even surpass those numbers?

SIMPLE BOS PROJECT SEARCHES FOR ANSWERS

RMI and other groups such as the U.S. DOE, National Renewable Energy Lab oratory(NREL), Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL), Clean Power Finance, and the Vote Solar Initiative have done great work on the issue over the past several years through benchmarking and other analysis on these various soft costs. However, such data remains relatively sparse in comparison to hardware market analysis. The U.S. solar industry has known that German installers are able to install rooftop solar systems at less than half our cost. But we haven’t been able to discern, at the detailed level of specific worker actions, why. Until now.

RMI, in partnership with Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI), launched a PV installation labor data collection and analysis effort under the SIMPLE BoS project, which culminated today in the release of Reducing Solar PV Soft Costs: A Focus on Installation Labor. Drawing upon first-hand observations, this report is the first publicly available detailed breakdown of the primary drivers of installation labor cost between German and U.S. residential installs.

The SIMPLE BoS team implemented a time-and-motion methodology for evaluating the PV installation process, collecting data on PV installations in both countries.

AMPLE OPPORTUNITIES TO REDUCE INSTALLATION COSTS

The results indicated that U.S. installers participating in the SIMPLE BoS project incur median installation costs of $0.49/W, compared to a benchmarked median cost of $0.18/W for participating German installers. The figure below shows the comparative costs of each component of the PV installation process in the U.S. and Germany, respectively, looking at four categories of installation-related costs: racking & mounting, pre-install, electrical, and non-production.

Solar PV Cost Analysis Chart
Solar PV Cost Analysis Chart

In addition to providing cost details on the PV installation process, our report outlines several enabling factors from German and leading U.S. installers that can be disseminated throughout the U.S. market. These opportunities range widely in complexity and impact, from redesigning the base installation process and preparing rails on the ground, to implementing a one-day installation process and PV-ready electrical circuits. We’ve shown below the potential impact in $/W of these solutions and how difficult it would likely be to implement them widely the U.S.

Solar PV Opportunity Savings Chart
Solar PV Opportunity Savings Chart

In addition to highlighting specific opportunities for cost reduction in the U.S., our report also draws upon collected data and analysis to outline one potential pathway for U.S. installers to reduce installation labor costs by up to 64%—potentially undercutting German installation labor costs when relative differences in wages are taken into account. This pathway will not be realized overnight. It requires serious product innovation, uniform adoption of best practices, and a move to one-day installations from the average 3–5-day installation process that’s common for U.S. installers today.

We hope this report and all follow-on work under the SIMPLE BoS project will help the U.S. industry continue to reduce solar PV costs and enable the widespread, cost-effective deployment of residential solar PV systems.

For more information, download the full report.

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This article, Getting To The Bottom Of US–Germany Solar Soft Cost Differences, & How To Make Solar Cheaper In US Than In Germany, is syndicated from Clean Technica and is posted here with permission.

About the Author

Rocky Mountain InstituteRocky Mountain Institute Since 1982, Rocky Mountain Institute has advanced market-based solutions that transform global energy use to create a clean, prosperous and secure future. An independent, nonprofit think-and-do tank, RMI engages with businesses, communities and institutions to accelerate and scale replicable solutions that drive the cost-effective shift from fossil fuels to efficiency and renewables. Please visit http://www.rmi.org for more information.

Green Energy Is Grassroots Energy In Germany

by Giles Parkinson

.

Even the cemetery chapel has solar PV.

Originally published on RenewEconomy.

(Note: This is part of a series of interviews and stories that will run over the next few weeks looking at Germany’s Energiewende, and the transition of Germany’s energy grid to one dominated by renewable energy. You can find them all in our Insight section).

One of the most misunderstood aspects of Germany’s energy transition is the assumption that this is top-down mandate to adopt green energy. Nothing could be further from the truth, and one key statistic underlines this point: the major electricity generators account for just 7 per cent of the renewable energy that now makes up nearly one quarter of the county’s  electricity production. The rest has come from farmers, households, communities and small business.

There is a bunch of reasons why this is so. For many, it is their dislike of nuclear. For others, it’s the opportunity of maintaining a lifestyle, finding independence, or retaining ownership of a family farm. For many it is an environmental issue, for others it is an economic one.

When the price of livestock plunged after the outbreak of “mad cow” disease, the Reinbold family in the village of Freiamt, just north of Freiburg, were worried about losing their farm which had been in the family for generations.

So they turned to biogas to generate electricity and waste heat: They now grow crops of inedible corn, grass and rye and have two small turbines that have a combined capacity of 360kW. Waste heat is fed to the school and nearby homes, the liquid waste from the biomass goes to neighbouring farms. Another turbine will provide heat for the village pool and the hostels, which are popular with hikers.

“It’s more work in summer outside in the field,” says Inge Reinbold, of the need to tend crops rather than cattle. But less work in winter. And despite the large investment, she feels she has risk-proofed the family farm. “Now we have a fixed price for 10 years,” she says. They get 10c/kWh for their biogas electricity – and three solar arrays owned by her three sons gives them a further income.

Higher up the valley, we visit the Schneider family, which has gone even further, installing a heater that uses wood chips instead of oil, and hosting two community-owned wind turbines on their property (pictured below), which features 80 dairy cows and a much admired Schnapps production facility in the basement. (You can see a video here).

freiamt

The Schneider family farm – dairy cows, schnapps making, 100kW of solar PV and two wind turbines.

They, too, have around 100kW of solar in four arrays on the house and barn rooftops. The first was installed at a cost of €4,000/kW and got a feed-in-tariff of €0.49/kWh the most recent as installed at a cost of €1,000/w, and got a FiT of €0.32. The FiT is now around 15c.

(And it should be noted that when German farmers put solar on the rooftop they don’t muck around. Many of them have 30kW on the house and another 30kW on one or more barns if they have them. The Schneider household, Victorian planning authorities could note, is 400m from its turbine. The proximity may have made their schnapps somewhat more potent).

Now Freiamt, a collection of five small hamlets in the foothills of the Black Forest with a total population of 4,200, provides more than 200 per cent of its electricity needs, the locals claim. Five turbines, including the two on the Schneider property,  account for ¾ of this, with the rest made up from two biogas plants,  251 solar rooftops, about 150 solar thermal collectors, wood-chip heaters and four run-of-river hydro’s, which are coming back into vogue after a century of neglect.

The sense of independence is ingrained into the mentality. Most of the farming families were attracted to the area 500 years ago when the Monastery at St Peter, just down the road, offered freehold land to farmers who settled into the area and independence from the Dutch overlords).

“Now you see farms starting to look at battery storage,” says Erhard Shulz, the founder of the locally based Innovation Academy, and my guide for the day. “Independence is very important. That is why the families came here 500 years ago, for independence from the Dutch. Now it is for independence from the nuclear and the fossil fuel companies. This is very important.”

Most other villages in the region are taking similar action to Freiamt.

In Forchheim, the Binder family has invested in a 1.7MW biogas plant using two old ship motors. The aim is to generate 25 per cent of the local gas requirements, which would make the local area independent of Russian gas, which is imported at great expense.

In Weisweil, a village of 2,100 people, solar is installed on nearly available rooftop. Thirty locals pitched in to put a 50kW solar system on the roof of the local school, which also introduced energy efficiency and replaced heating oil with wood chips. Even the chapel in the cemetery has a 22kW solar system on the roof, installed by the local bank which feeds 50 per cent of the earnings back into the community. The village boasts 700w of solar PV per habitant. (In Australia, it is around 125w per capita).

“You need communities like this,” Shulz says. “Someone has to be in front so that others can follow.” Other towns are looking at investing too.

The village of Kenzingen is considering 5 community owned turbines.  The larger town of Ettlingenden and the surrounding district, with its population of 22,000, aims to be 100 per cent renewable for its electricity by 2030, and 50 per cent for its heating needs.

The goal for Etlingenden contrasts with that of the major local city of Freiburg, which is looking to achieve the same goal in 2050. “The centre of initiative is in the small villages,” Shulz says. “People using their own money to invest in hydro, biogas, solar and wind turbines. They don’t wait for the government and the utilities.”

Shulz, who was a student at the time of the anti-nuclear protests in the 1970s that served as a launched for the green energy movement, and later the Greens Party, is a part owner of six wind turbines, seven solar installations and two run of river hydro plants. The number of co-investors ranges from 10 to more than 500, depending on the installation.

This is typical of the country and one of the reasons why no party that got elected to parliament in the recent elections opposes the so called Energiewende, or energy transition. It is one of the driving forces of the policy. The major generators have been blindsided, to the point where the biggest of them, such as RWE, are considering abandoning their traditional business models and moving to a “value add” business that could assist the rising “pro-prosumer” and a new market.

Finally, Shulz take me to the village of Wyhl, where the state government wanted to build the nuclear plant in the 1970s. Shulz takes me to a stone inlaid with a plaque at the site of Wyhl fight, about 50m from the banks of the Rhine river that separates Germany and France. The land had been cleared but was stopped by a protest of 50,000 people. (See some archive video here). It is now a nature reserve. The plaque reads, “We said no.”

Wyhl is now a “solar village”. Virtually every commercial rooftop has solar installed, as do many houses, and solar accounts for between 40 and 50 per cent of its electricity needs. All the solar is owned by the community.  “We have gone from nuclear to solar,” Shulz says. “Now we say no to fossil fuels.”

See also out story Should Australian communities buy back their grids, which traces the history of Schönau, which was the first village to do so in Germany, and our interview with the Australian-born mayor of Green City Freiburg, How the crazy green energy citizens became mainstream in Germany. 

(Thanks to Craig Morris, a Freiburg-based journalist who writes the Energy Transition blog (EnergyTransition.de), for allowing us to share some of his videos. More will be featured in our other stories. You can see all his episodes here).

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This article, Green Energy Is Grassroots Energy In Germany, is syndicated from Clean Technica and is posted here with permission.

About the Author

Giles Parkinson is the founding editor of RenewEconomy.com.au, an Australian-based website that provides news and analysis on cleantech, carbon, and climate issues. Giles is based in Sydney and is watching the (slow, but quickening) transformation of Australia’s energy grid with great interest.

‘Crazy’ Becomes The Norm In Germany After Tremendous Green Progress

by Giles Parkinson

Freiberg, Germany sets sails on Energiewende
Freiburg, Germany sets sails on Energiewende.

(Note: This is part of a series of interviews and stories that will run over the next few weeks looking at Germany’s Energiewende, and the transition of Germany’s energy grid to one dominated by renewable energy).

“They told us we were crazy.”

It is a phrase you often hear from Dr. Dieter Salomon – the Australian-born mayor of the German city of Freiburg – a city so much at the vanguard of the green transformation that is currently underway in Germany that it calls itself – Green City Freiburg. It probably feels that it needs the extra words to reinforce the point – because green, or at least green energy, is now mainstream in Germany.

Salomon, who was born in Melbourne but moved back to Germany with his family at the age of 3, has been mayor of this city of 220,000 people at the edge of the Black Forest since 2002. And in many ways, the story of Freiburg and its attitude to renewables, energy, and sustainability, is a microcosm of what is now occurring in the broader economy.

It goes back to the 1970s, when an unlikely coalition of farmers — many of them wine makers, academics and students — forced the state government to cancel plans for a new nuclear power plant at Wyhl, just 25kms north of the city. It was a ferocious battle (see a video here), culminating in a showdown that attracted a rally of 50,000 people. It remains, Salomon says, the only nuclear power plant that has been successfully prevented from going ahead, even thought the country has now committed to closing all by 2022.

Dieter Salomon, the Australian-born mayor of Freiburg
Dieter Salomon, the Australian-born mayor of Freiburg

“The prime minister of the state (of Baden-Württemberg), told us we were crazy and said that we don’t build this plant the lights will go off,” Salomon says in his offices in the heart of the Medieval old quarter of the city. “That was 40 years ago, people still remember that comment because the lights haven’t gone off.”

More than a decade later, the “crazy” accusation was levelled at the city again, this time by the local newspaper when the council decided, six weeks after the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, to install a long-term program to wean the city off nuclear and fossil fuels, and into renewables, energy saving, and energy efficiency.

“They told us it was a crazy decision,” Salomon says. Despite preventing a new power station, the local utility still relied on nuclear for 90 per cent of its electricity needs. “They told us it was not possible.” Now, the local utility contracts almost all its outside needs from hydro-electric sources in Austria.

The Solar Ship in Freiburg

Freiburg argues that it earns its “Green City” sobriquet from that initial spirit of defiance against nuclear and its subsequent focus on innovation, and sustainability.

It boasts a carbon neutral quarter known as Quartier Vauban, where in some sections the citizens voted against the use of cars; the “Solar City” and “Sun Ship” (pictured right), a residential area that features “energy plus” housing, meaning the houses and adjoining commercial buildings produce more solar electricity than they consume during the year.

There is the famous “Heliotrop”, a unique circular home that rotates so that its massive solar PV array and solar thermal collectors can follow the sun. (See video here).

The town has more than 100 “passive houses”, has retrofitted a high-rise residential building to “passive house” status (see another video here); and new homes have a requirement that restricts the consumption of heating oil to 1.5 litres per square metre per year. That compares to the average consumption of 30 litres/sqm/year a decade ago. Space heating in Germany consumes twice as much energy as electricity.

New housing projects are not begun until a tram line is built. The city estimates that 30 per cent of journeys are done by public transport and 27 per cent by bicycle. Car movements account for just 30 per cent of movements within the city. It is building three new tram lines to ensure that every home is within 500m of public transport.

Freiburg has also become a hub of innovation and industry. I lunched at Solar Fabrik, the first carbon-neutral solar module manufacturing facility. The city is also the home of numerous research facilities, most notably the Fraunhofer Institute for Sustainable Energy, which has grown from 60 people to more than 1,300, and is the second largest solar research institute in the world.

“Freiburg was quite different from rest of Republic,” Salomon says. “They thought we were the crazy guys from the Upper Rhine Valley. But now it is mainstream.” But, he concedes, “a lot of people complain that we don’t do enough, that what we have done is nothing, that we have to do more.”

Indeed, despite its credentials, Freiburg now trails other cities in the deployment of renewables. It gave itself what seems to be a modest target of generating 10 per cent of its own electricity needs through renewables by 2010, but came up well short.

freiburg wind
Picturesque Freiburg, Germany.

It has six turbines on the hills overlooking the town, and solar PV on the stadium, and virtually every other public building that can support it, as well as many private homes. But it still only generates 6% of its own electricity needs through these means. Despite being in the sunniest region in Germany, there is just not that much wind and sun to go power the city within the narrow boundaries of the city, and few biomass or hydro opportunities. About 50 per cent of its energy needs (mostly heat) comes from combined heat and power plants.

Now it has set a target of 100 per cent renewables for the Freiburg region, which includes the surrounding areas that have 650,000 people. It aims to do this by 2050. It will use the open spaces and resources of the surrounding areas for more wind turbines and solar farms, biomass plants and run-of-river hydro. And, Salomon hopes, geothermal. (Some smaller towns scoff at such targets, saying that they have already reached 100 per cent renewables, or even more, in some villages. The region of Emmendingen, which forms part of Freiburg and has 25,000 people, aims to be 100 per cent renewable by 2030).

The Green Conundrum: Fundies vs Realos

Salomon was elected mayor in 2002 – the first Green mayor of a large city in Germany — and re-elected in 2010 (they have eight-year terms). He’s what is knows an a “Realo”, as opposed to a “Fundie”, or fundamental Green that refuse the corridors of power.

It’s been a battle that has raged with the Green Party since it was founded more than three decades ago. The Green Party shared power with the Social Democrats in Berlin a decade ago, and the same arrangement is in place in Badem-Wurrtemburg, where Freiburg is located. The state’s capital, Stuttgart, also has a green mayor.

But in the federal level, the Greens have snubbed the opportunity of forming a Coalition with Angela Merkel, despite being the first party approached. Some say it is because the Fundies rule again in Berlin, others say it is because the centre-right has stolen its thunder by rejecting nuclear and supporting renewables. Still, others are frustrated that the Greens are not sharing power, because the energy transition would likely be quicker than with a centre right/centre left coalition.

For Salomon though, being Green and in government is “quite normal”. “When I was re-elected 3 years ago, I represented the mainstream of Freiburg.”

He says he needs to be a “realo” in more ways than one, because his party has just 13 out of 48 councillors. There are 10 parties represented to the council. “I have to have majority support in the council or I cannot govern,” he says.

Salomon is confident that the Energiewende – the national energy transition that will see it phase out nuclear altogether by 2022 and become a nation predominantly powered by renewables — will succeed.  This is despite a lot of vested interests trying to make political capital out of rising electricity prices.

“A lot of countries are looking at Germany,” Salomon says. Some of them don’t want us to reach our targets, others are hoping that we do. When it works in Germany, a lot of other countries are going to copy it.

“I know some countries think we are crazy, including the British. But now they are building new nuclear power plants with the French and the Chinese. The money they guarantee for every kilowatt hour is more than we pay for solar. Now, that is really crazy.”

See also our story Should Australian communities buy back their grids, which traces the history of Schönau, which was the first village to do so in Germany.

(Thanks to Craig Morris, a Freiburg based journalist who writes the Energy Transition blog (EnergyTransition.de), for allowing us to share some of his videos. More will be featured in our other stories. They can be found here).

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This article, “Crazy” Becomes The Norm In Germany After Tremendous Green Progress, is syndicated from Clean Technica and is posted here with permission.

About the Author

Giles Parkinson is the founding editor of RenewEconomy.com.au, an Australian-based website that provides news and analysis on cleantech, carbon, and climate issues. Giles is based in Sydney and is watching the (slow, but quickening) transformation of Australia’s energy grid with great interest.