• Germany's news in English
 
app_header_v3

Village banks on wind, sun and pig manure

AFP · 26 Oct 2014, 09:41

Published: 26 Oct 2014 09:41 GMT+01:00

The hamlet near Berlin is Germany's first to have left the national grid and switched to 100 percent local, alternative energy, swearing off fossil fuels and nuclear power decades before the rest of the country plans to near the same goal.

Electricity now comes from a wind park towering over its gently rolling fields and reaches homes through Feldheim's own mini smart grid.

More than 99 percent of the wind power is sold into the national system, along with electricity from a solar park on a former Soviet military base.

As winter nears, people here will heat their homes from a biogas plant powered by local pig and cattle manure and shredded corn, while on the coldest days a woodchip plant will also burn forestry waste.

The villagers took bank loans and state subsidies to build the system, in partnership with green power company Energiequelle, but say it is paying off as electricity and heating bills have been slashed.

Feldheim no longer pays for 160,000 litres (40,000 gallons) of heating oil a year, said Werner Frohwitter of the local energy cooperative.

"This money is no longer going to Arab sheiks or (Russian President) Vladimir Putin," he said at the village 80 kilometres southwest of Berlin. "This money is now staying right here."

Depending on who you listen to, Germany's "Energiewende" or energy shift is a bright green vision for a zero-carbon future or a reckless gamble that will drive Europe's biggest economy against the wall.

It is certainly Germany's biggest infrastructure project since World War II and its greatest national challenge since reunification 25 years ago.

Europe's major export power plans to switch off its last nuclear plant in 2022 and by mid-century meet 80 percent of electricity demand with renewables, up from one quarter now.

Windfarms have mushroomed, especially along the gusty northern coast, and solar dishes now cover homes, barns and factories -- all encouraged by state-guaranteed returns for 20 years.

But amid the rapid and often chaotic build-up, the energy shift has been hit by delays, cost overruns and unforeseen consequences.

For one, green surcharges have made power bills the second highest in the EU, worrying businesses that compete internationally, especially as the economy is losing steam.

"The cost of the energy transition for the economy and consumers will continue to rise," Germany's Chemical Industry Association warned this month.

Power companies E.ON, RWE and Vattenfall are meanwhile suing the government for billions in foregone nuclear power profits.

There have also been major technical hitches to building giant offshore windfarms, and local protests have slowed to a crawl the building of high-voltage power lines between Germany's windy north and industrial south.

The biggest irony has been that the energy shift, intended to slow climate change, has driven up carbon emissions for the past two years.

The problem lies in the fickle nature of renewables. When the sun doesn't shine and the wind doesn't blow, conventional power is needed to fill the gap - ideally with relatively clean and flexible gas plants.

However, utilities - which have taken a beating as a glut of renewables has slashed wholesale power prices - have shuttered some under-utilised gas plants and filled the gap with cheaper and dirtier coal.

This trend has worsened with the collapse of Europe's market for carbon emissions, which was designed to put a cost on environmental damage, but no longer makes it expensive for companies to pollute.

As a result, while clean energy took the top share at 27.7 percent in the year's first nine months, it only narrowly beat lignite coal at 26.3 percent, according to the Agora research institute.

Story continues below…

Chancellor Angela Merkel this month urged reforms to Europe's emissions trading scheme, saying that putting a price on carbon is "the central instrument to fight climate change in Europe".

A range of other future tools are being debated to save the Energiewende, still a broadly popular project backed by all political parties.

Ideas range from paying gas plants to remain on standby for when they are needed, to better home insulation and more electric cars, to creating large energy storage systems using water reservoirs and huge batteries.

Tiny Feldheim, ever proud to be at the cutting edge, has set up an electric car power station and ordered a 10 MW lithium-ion battery from South Korea.

When the giant device arrives next year, it will give the village a 48-hour emergency supply, but that is not its main purpose.

For most of the year it will be rented out to a regional power company as a buffer against grid fluctuations.

For more news from Germany, join us on Facebook and Twitter.

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Naked swimmer hospitalized after angler hooks his penis
File photo: DPA

When a man swimming naked in a Bavarian lake felt a strange pain in his nether regions, he looked up to see a fisherman on the shore. "Don’t pull!" he shouted.

Study finds rival Rhineland beers 'actually taste the same'
Left: Altbier. Right: Kölsch. Or can you even tell? Photos: DPA.

Cologne and Düsseldorf have a long established rivalry, not least over who has the better home brew. So the results of a new study might be more than they can swallow.

Eastern Europe pushes Germany for joint EU army
Angela Merkel (l), Beata Szydlo and Victor Orban. Photo: DPA

Eastern EU countries on Friday pushed for the bloc to create a joint army as they met with Germany for talks on sketching Europe's post-Brexit future.

Merkel’s party mate wants to get rid of all Karl Marx streets
Karl Marx and one of the roadways in Berlin named for him. Photos: Wikimedia Commons, Nicor

Hundreds of streets are named after the founder of communism, but this conservative politician wants to give Marx the boot.

State elections
6 reasons why Berlin is now known as 'the failed city'
Photo: DPA

With state elections around the corner, The Local looks at the poor side of Germany's "poor but sexy" capital city.

Upstarts RB Leipzig plan to go right to top of Bundesliga
RB Leipzig players celebrate scoring against Dynamo Dresden. Photo: DPA

RB Leipzig make their Bundesliga debut on Sunday, but the East German outfit, sponsored by energy drinks manufacturer Red Bull, are already far from popular in Germany's top-flight.

Poland criticizes Germany’s 'self-serving' foreign policy
Witold Waszczykowski. Photo: DPA

The Polish foreign minister has said that Germany all too often follows its own interests at the expense of its partners, as Chancellor Angela Merkel prepares to visit Warsaw.

Vast majority of Germans in favour of burqa ban: poll
Women wearing niqab veils in Saudi Arabia. Photo: DPA.

A survey found that the vast majority of respondents were in favour of Germany passing a ban on the full-body veil sometimes worn by Muslim women.

Czech police detain driver for harassing Merkel's motorcade
Angela Merkel. File photo: DPA

Czech police arrested a man on Thursday for attempting to drive into the motorcade of visiting German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Prague, they said.

Teacher convicted for holding kids back after class
Photo: DPA

A music teacher from North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) has been found guilty of "holding people against their will" after he made some naughty stay kids back after class.

Sponsored Article
Why you should attend an international job fair
Gallery
Germany's 17 Olympic gold medals in pictures
Sponsored Article
Why expats choose international health insurance
Culture
7 American habits that make Germans very, very uncomfortable
Rhineland
Story of a fugitive cow who outwitted police for weeks before capture
Sponsored Article
Why you should attend an international job fair
Culture
Eleven famous Germans with surnames that'll make your sides split
Sponsored Article
Life in Jordan: 'Undiscovered treasure'
Lifestyle
The best ways to get a visa as an American in Germany
14 facts you never knew about the Brandenburg Gate
Society
Ten times Germans proved they really, really love beer
Sponsored Article
Why Jordan is the ‘Different’ East
Lifestyle
What's on in Germany: events for August 2016
Sponsored Article
Five things Americans should know about voting abroad
National
Six things you need to know when moving to Germany
Travel
These 10 little-known German towns are a must see
Sponsored Article
Jordan Pass: your ticket to the experience of a lifetime
International
German scientists prove birds can sleep while flying
Sponsored Article
Jordan: where history meets adventure
Technology
London v. Berlin: Which is better for startups?
Lifestyle
13 mortifying mistakes German learners always make
Sponsored Article
6 reasons expats use TransferWise to send money
Travel
Enter if you dare: Berlin's best abandoned haunts
Sponsored Article
Why you should attend an international job fair
Lifestyle
10 rookie errors all Brits make when they arrive in Germany
Sponsored Article
Five things Americans should know about voting abroad
National
How to get German citizenship (or just stay forever)
Sponsored Article
Jordan: where history meets adventure
Technology
Brexit will turn Berlin into 'Europe’s startup capital'
Sponsored Article
6 reasons expats use TransferWise to send money
Travel
Six soothing day trips to escape the bustle of Berlin
International
'Germany needs to make UK come to its senses'
Features
Six odd things Germans do in the summer
Features
How two gay dads cut through German red tape to start a family
8,546
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd