German Village Becomes Model for Renewable Energy

March 11th, 2012

Published on Spigel Online International, by Renuka Rayasam, March 9, 2012.

The tiny village of Feldheim, some 60 kilometers southwest of Berlin, was catapulted by chance to the forefront of the renewable energy movement. Now visitors from around the world are flocking to this otherwise unremarkable rural community to see if they can replicate its success … //  

… Feldheim Versus Big Energy:

Germany’s regulations and political climate discourage municipalities that want to come up with their own solution, says Knape. Feldheim had to go up against Germany’s major public utility companies and energy regulators to create its network. While no laws strictly prohibit the move, the initial reaction of administrators was against the project. They had to be convinced that the local grid would exceed the standards of public utilities. For example, Feldheim had to guarantee that the energy supply must be uninterrupted, an important rule for big factories, but unimportant for households which would barely notice a one second break in electricity.

Navigating regulation – especially after the German government rewrote energy laws in 2005 due to a EU directive – is major hurdle for towns like Feldheim, says Christian Marthol, a partner in the energy practice of the law firm Rödl & Partners.

For example, there is an open discussion over whether towns should be allowed to produce more energy than they need because the state doesn’t want them to be making profits from such ventures. So if a town wants to take over its grid it must accurately estimate usage and production.

In Feldheim residents hash out such details at a yearly meeting and hold neighbors accountable for under- or over-estimating usage. “They have to think about what happens behind the power socket, while most of us don’t,” says Knape.

Lightning in a Bottle:

Feldheim captured lightning in a bottle, but whether visitors will be able to replicate its success remains in question. Despite challenges, towns across Germany are taking energy provision back into their own hands rather than waiting for federal government efforts, says Marthol. “There is no town in Germany that is not thinking about the energy revolution,” he says.

Even in Germany’s capital, Berlin, organizers are collecting signatures for a petition for the city to take over its electricity network from Vattenfall when its contract runs out in 2014. The group wants the city to push its energy mix towards more ecologically-friendly sources.

Germany’s agriculture ministry is accepting applications for its second “Bioenergy Village” contest, which awards cities €10,000 each for promoting renewable energy projects. Feldheim was one of three villages recognized during the first contest in 2010. About 300 villages are working on energy projects with at least 60 of them eligible for the contest this year, says Marko Bobzien a collaborator on the initiative. “Each one is individual,” he says. “One must find a unique solution for every village.”

Not a Blueprint: … (full text).

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