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Cover Story

Feldheim: energy autonomy

Energy autonomyJuly and August are holiday months in Germany, but not for Kathleen Thompson. Her office in tiny Feldheim village in eastern Germany receives visitors from across the world all the year round. Feldheim does not have heritage buildings, restaurants or museums. What it has is a wind farm, a biogas plant and a woodchip-fired heating plant. These ensure that the village, with a population of 128 people living in 35 houses, generates all its energy locally from clean sources. It is the only village in the country with its own grid.

“Feldheim showcases Germany’s Energiewende, which the world is talking about,” says Thompson, sitting inside the information centre whose walls are covered with posters advertising Feldheim’s energy ventures. Tucked away in the Brandenburg countryside 60 km from Berlin, Feldheim attracted 3,000 visitors in 2012. “The number is growing every year,” says Thompson, who is in her thirties and works for a regional non-profit, New Energie Forum.

She explains how Feldheim became what it is today. Back in 2004-05 farmers in this village were a worried lot. Prices of their produce, milk, potato and sugar beet, were falling and the rate of electricity was increasing. While farmers were losing hope, a company called Energiequelle GmbH saw a big potential in the village. The Brandenburg-based company, which specialises in renewable power, was looking for a potential site for establishing a wind farm. Feldheim with an average wind speed of 6.5 m/sec fit the bill. Michael Raschermann, a 25-year-old owner of the company, sat with farmers’ cooperative and chalked out a plan to make Feldheim energy independent. A company was set up with equal partnership. It is called Feldheim Energie GmbH & Co. KG.

Soon a 500 KW biogas plant was set up by the joint venture in 2008. Farmers switched to maize, sweet corn and rye. They started sending 15-20 per cent of their produce to the plant, the rest is used as animal feed or sold in the market. The agriculture feed is mixed with manure from animal farms to produce biogas. In a year the plant produces 4.2 million kWh of electricity and 4.3 million kWh equivalent of heat. Almost 80 per cent of the generated heat is used in the village, mostly in a pig farm. Its by-product slurry is used as fertiliser in farms.

Meanwhile, Energiequelle also set up a wind farm with 43 turbines having a total capacity of 74 MW. One of the turbines of 500 KW capacity is owned by the village. Energiequelle pays farmers rent for putting its turbines on their farms.

The power generated from the biogas plant and the wind turbines is fed into the local grid to meet the electricity requirements of the village. The surplus is sold to the grid. Feldheim Energie gets a feed-in-tariff of 19 euro cents per Kwh for electricity generated from the biogas plant and nine cents for the electricity from the wind farm. It sells the electricity to the residents of Feldheim at about 17 cents per kWh.

But building mini-grid for the village was not easy. Michael Knappe, the outgoing mayor of Treuenbrietzen municipality, which covers Feldheim, had to face up to big energy industries. “Energy system in Germany is centralised and strictly regulated. It is also monopolised by a few energy distribution companies. And they don’t like it if somebody steps on their toes,” Knappe, a staunch supporter of renewable energy, told the media. When the residents approached the major public electricity utility E.ON, it refused to sell or lease its grid to Feldheim.

“They didn’t want others to take control,” says a member of Energiequelle. The village, therefore, decided to build its own energy grid with the help of Energiequelle. It was completed in 2010. Each resident contributed around €3,000 and some state subsidies were pooled together to meet the total cost of €2.2 million. The village also received a little help (€850,000) from a European Union programme to build a heating network in the village.

Having their own grid exempts residents of the village from various electricity surcharges. As a result they pay onethird lower tariff than what other households in Germany pay. This tariff is guaranteed for 10 years.

In extreme winter when there is no wind, Feldheim’s wood chip plant switches on and provides heating. The biogas plant, though sluggish in cold, provides electricity. Every family in the village has found a job in these clean energy ventures. They are also earning more than before.

With the number of visitors in Feldheim increasing, Thompson’s makeshift office will be replaced by a big centre which will showcase Feldheim to visitors and also conduct training for people who want to work in the renewable energy sector. It will also have a restaurant, the first in Feldheim.


Excellent article. Yes. Germany is advancing in leaps and bounds in Renewables. The fact that Germany once a Nuclear country chose to switch over to Renewables is a lesson for other countries to follow.
Dr.A.Jagadeesh Nellore(AP),India

1 September 2013
Posted by

Excellent story. It was mentioned in the article about Ellhoft: electrifying cooperatives.

Energy Cooperatives

Citizens, communities and local economy in good company

The expansion of renewable energies leads to fundamental changes concerning our energy supply. Wind turbines in the landscape, photovoltaic systems on roofs or farms with biogas plants are visible indications for the development in that sector. Heat pumps, wood pellet and woodchip heating plants provide heat and relieve whole villages from fossil fuels.

Renewable energies do not only protect the climate, but also improve the security of supply, create new jobs and increase the regional income. The decentralized nature of renewable energy gives every citizen the opportunity to make an active contribution to the transformation of energy supply, either by building their own facilities or by participating in community projects.

In the last three decades, people came together in numerous citizens’ groups, local councils and regional businesses to establish common renewable energy projects in their region.

Energy cooperatives as organisational form are growing a lot in popularity because they offer a variety of possibilities for action and design. Currently, more than 80,000 citizens in Germany hold shares in new energy cooperatives. They can already participate with small amounts. In the last years, more than 500 newly-founded energy cooperatives invested a total of 800 million euros in renewable energy. This is confirmed by a recent study of the DGRV( SourceDGRV).

The move away from conventional sources of energy in Germany is driven primarily by citizens. An increasing number of people work together by forming cooperatives to build wind farms and solar plants.
Cooperatives have experienced a revival in Germany. In 2006, eight new energy cooperatives were founded. In 2011 alone, this number was 167. And the German Cooperative and Raiffeisen Confederation expects the figure to be even higher for 2012.
This kind of growth is vital if Germany wants to phase out its nuclear energy dependency by 2022. By promoting energy policy at the local level, communities all over Germany are profiting from renewable energy sources and the power of cooperatives.
A typical example of this growth is seen in the Horb Ecumenical Energy Cooperative in Stuttgart, which has implemented several solar power plants. Bernard Bok was a driving force in this task: before his retirement he was on the board of the local cooperative Volksbank, so he was interested in helping the cooperative.

For him there was no question, the development of renewable energy needed the strong legs of a cooperative to stand on. “We are in a country of cooperatives,” said Bok.
Nowhere in Germany are cooperatives represented more strongly than in southern German. Small-scale farming was expected to expand so local farmers organized themselves into agricultural cooperatives.

Citizen participation instead of anonymous investors
In the mid 19th century, cooperative were born out of necessity. But today, people come together for different reasons: the desire for self-government and citizen participation is growing stronger. People are looking for an alternative to unknown investors and prefer to follow their own agenda istead of being dependent on others.
Thus, in times of global economic turmoil, local communities and civil societies are a deliberate counterpoint to the international financial markets. Often traditional cooperative banks, such as the Volks- and Raiffeisenbank, participate in the funding and financing of local cooperatives.
Large projects are possible
The range of energy cooperatives is large, and it is not limited to just solar or wind power. For example, a cooperative in the community of St. Peter in the Black Forest last year built a plant for local thermal power.
A modern wood heating plant provides heat for the town of 150 houses, which have made oil heaters obsolete. About 8,500 meters of piping were laid in the village for the cooperative.
To complete the project, different stakeholders came together from over the region each bringing their own specific professional knowledge. Markus Bohnert, a board member of the citizens cooperative, has worked as a forester. Other supporters had backgrounds in heating construction, building design or marketing.
The idea for this cooperative started in 2007. A subsequent survey of all citizens of St. Peter showed that people were very receptive. Above all, the major local consumers wanted to be a part of the project including municipal buildings, church facilities, as well as many hotels and restaurants it the town center. As a result, "People's Energy of St. Peter" was founded.

The number of people required to found a cooperative has dropped from seven to three people. Similarly, the required number of board members was reduced for small cooperatives.
With these changes, cooperatives have been gaining speed: According to the umbrella organization for cooperatives in Baden-Württemberg, southern Germany, one in three citizens are a member of a cooperative( Source: Energy Cooperatives are booming in Germany,DW).

Another area that is advancing in Germnany is Offshore Wind Farms:

The use of the offshore wind energy in German waters predominantly takes place outside the 12 sea mile zone in the exclusive economic zone (EEZ). With this, the majority of the planned projects and those still in operation is located in the high seas of the German North and Baltic Sea. At the end of August 2013, 520 MW of offshore wind capacity was being connected to the grid in Germany. By 2030, a capacity of 25,000 MW is to be connected to the grid according to the plans of the Federal Government.

Currently, offshore wind farms (OWP) with a total capacity of about 1,600 MW are being constructed; wind farms with a capacity of 9,000 to around 10,500 MW received an authorization. Moreover, further 94 projects with about 6,600 Off WEA and a total capacity of up to about 30,000 MW are in the process of authorization so that all in all, about 40,000 MW are in the planning stage (as at September 2012). The maps of the German North and Baltic Sea provide an overview of both the location and the status of the projects(Source:OFFSHORE - WINDENERGIE.NET).

I have been advocating starting Wind Farm co-operatives in India on the lines of those in Germany,Denmark etc. for over a decade. Hitherto Depreciation benefits were goiven to large industries. A WIND FUND can be created and people( Individual Tax Payers) can be exempted if they invest in this Wind fund under Section 80C. This way there will be wide participation of People in Wind Farms. Another area that needs immediate attention is Offshore Wind Farms. I had been suggesting Offshore Wind Farms since India has long coast line. Winds in the sea are about 30% more than on land and since Power is cube of velocity,offshore wind farms give higher yields.Atleast a Pilot Project can be started by MNRE so that Private Industry follows.

Dr.A.Jagadeesh Nellore(AP),India
Wind Energy Expert
E-mail: anumakonda.jagadeesh@gmail.com

1 September 2013
Posted by

Excellent article. I especially appreciate the detailed coverage of small communities establishing their own energy supply and generating income from supplying energy to the grid. we need more examples of this so that many other communities around the world can start similar initiatives or encourage their legislative bodies to promote this as Germany has.
Thank you

2 September 2013
Posted by
Alex Green

Germany's renewable energy sector is among the most innovative and successful worldwide. The share of electricity produced from renewable energy in Germany has increased from 6.3 percent of the national total in 2000 to about 25 percent in the first half of 2012. In 2011 20.5% (123.5 TWh) of Germany's electricity supply (603 TWH) was produced from renewable energy sources, more than the 2010 contribution of gas-fired power plants.
According to official figures, some 370,000 people in Germany were employed in the renewable energy sector in 2010, especially in small and medium sized companies. This is an increase of around 8 percent compared to 2009 (around 339,500 jobs), and well over twice the number of jobs in 2004 (160,500). About two-thirds of these jobs are attributed to the Renewable Energy Sources Act Germany has been called "the world's first major renewable energy economy"
Since the passage of the Directive on Electricity Production from Renewable Energy Sources in 1997, Germany and the other states of the European Union have been working towards a target of 12% renewable electricity by 2010. Germany passed this target early in 2007 when the renewable energy share in electricity consumption in Germany reached 14%. In September 2010 the German government announced the following new ambitious energy targets:
• Renewable electricity - 35% by 2020, 50% by 2030, 65% by 2040, and 80% by 2050
• Renewable energy - 18% by 2020, 30% by 2030, and 60% by 2050
• Energy efficiency - Cutting the total energy consumption by 20% from 2008 by 2020 and 50% less by 2050
• Total electricity consumption - 10% below 2008 level by 2020 and 25% less by 2050

Germany's renewable energy sector is among the most innovative and successful worldwide. Nordex, Repower, Fuhrländer and Enercon are wind power companies based in Germany. SolarWorld, Q-Cells and Conergy are solar power companies based in Germany. These companies dominate the world market. Every third solar panel and every second wind rotor is made in Germany, and German turbines and generators used in hydro energy generation are among the most popular worldwide.
Siemens chief executive, Peter Löscher believes that Germany’s target of generating 35 per cent of its energy from renewables by 2020 is achievable – and, most probably, profitable for Europe’s largest engineering company. Its “environmental solutions” portfolio, which is firmly focused on renewables, is “already generating more than €27 billion a year, 35 per cent of Siemens’ total revenue, and the plan is to grow this to €40 billion by 2015”. Ending its involvement in nuclear industry will boost the credibility of Siemens as a purveyor of “green technology”.
Germany's main competitors in solar electricity are Japan, the US and China. In the wind industry it is Denmark, Spain US and the China.

Increases in installed renewable electric power capacity and generation in recent years is shown in the table below:
Year Installed
[MW] Hydropower
[GWh] Wind energy
[GWh] Biomass
[GWh] Biogenic share
of waste
[GWh] Photovoltaics
[GWh] Geothermal
[GWh] Total electricity
[GWh] Share of gross

1990 4,069 15,580 71 221 1,213 0.6 17,086 3.1
1991 4,097 15,402 100 260 1,211 1.6 16,974 3.1
1992 4,331 18,091 275 296 1,262 3.2 19,927 3.7
1993 4,483 18,526 600 433 1,203 5.8 20,768 3.9
1994 4,864 19,501 909 569 1,306 8.0 22,293 4.2
1995 5,464 20,747 1,500 665 1,348 11 24,271 4.5
1996 5,874 18,340 2,032 759 1,343 16 22,490 4.1
1997 6,477 18,453 2,966 880 1,397 26 23,722 4.3
1998 7,473 18,452 4,489 1,642 1,618 32 26,233 4.7
1999 9,012 20,686 5,528 1,849 1,740 42 29,845 5.4
2000 10,875 24,867 9,513 2,893 1,844 64 39,181 6.8
2001 13,756 23,241 10,509 3,348 1,859 76 39,033 6.7
2002 17,487 23,662 15,786 4,089 1,949 162 45,648 7.8
2003 20,857 17,722 18,713 6,086 2,161 313 44,995 7.5
2004 24,074 19,910 25,509 7,960 2,117 556 0.2 56,052 9.2
2005 28,122 19,576 27,229 10,978 3,047 1,282 0.2 62,112 10.1
2006 31,883 20,042 30,710 14,841 3,844 2,220 0.4 71,657 11.6
2007 35,479 21,169 39,713 19,760 4,521 3,075 0.4 88,238 14.3
2008 39,597 20,446 40,574 22,872 4,659 4,420 17.6 92,989 15.1
2009 46,584 19,036 38,602 38 25,989 4,352 6,583 18.8 94,618 16.4
2010 55,742 20,956 37,619 174 29,085 4,781 11,683 27.7 104,372 17.1
2011 65,843 17,674 48,315 568 31,920 5,000 19,340 18.8 123,519 20.5
2012 76,017 21,200 45,325 675 35,950 4,900 28,000 25.4 136,075 22.9

Source: Böhme, Dieter (February 2013). "Entwicklung der erneuerbaren Energien in Deutschland im Jahr 2012"(PDF). Federal Ministry for Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety. Retrieved 20 April 2013.
Indeed Germany has shown the path for a gradual transition from Conventional Energy to Renewable Energy and it is hoped other countries will follow the fine Example of Germany.
Dr.A.Jagadeesh Nellor(AP),India

2 September 2013
Posted by

A very thorough and well-researched article!
It is right that the Energiewende is quite expensive, but on the other hand the Germans are strongly against nuclear power and more than happy to get rid of it. The other thing is that we don't have a lot of fossil resources. We buy gas from Russia and coal from China and India, so it seems like a sensible thing to use renewable sources to become more independent.
People aren't buying electric cars just yet, but that will be the next step: To fuel cars with electricity from renewable sources. This will keep the automobile industry going (sadly that is the most important thing in Germany), but it will also reduce pollution and the need for oil.

13 September 2013
Posted by

What is the source/reference used for the figure of 1.3 million households using solar PV? I have been unable to find this exact data anywhere else online.

17 February 2014
Posted by

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