How a German Village Created an Independent Grid and a Renewable Energy Future
By Laurie Guevara-Stone
Regardless of debate about the success of Germany’s renewables revolution, there is no denying that a small town in the corner of rural eastern Germany, 40 miles south of Berlin, may be one of the best examples of decentralized self-sufficiency.
Feldheim (population: 150), in the cash-strapped state of Brandenburg, was a communist collective farm back when Germany was still divided into East and West. Now, it is a model renewable energy village putting into practice Germany's vision of a renewably powered future.
In 1995, a local entrepreneur paid for Feldheim’s first wind turbine. As farmers started to worry when prices for their milk, potatoes, and beets began to fall and energy prices started to rise, they learned they could earn cash by renting their land to energy companies wanting to install a wind turbine. A local renewable energy company, Energiequelle GmbH, saw the potential as well, and decided to install a wind farm in Feldheim. Forty-three wind turbines with an installed capacity of 74.1 megawatt (MW) soon dotted the Feldheim landscape, providing income to farmers who leased their land to the energy company.
Renewable fervor was catching on, and in 2008 Energiequelle bought a 111-acre former Soviet military site about five miles from Feldheim, cleaned up the toxic military waste and hidden ammunition and constructed a 284-panel solar farm that produces over 2,700 MW hours per year. Its power is fed into the grid at the feed-in-tariff rate.
That same year, the town of Feldheim and Energiequelle established a joint venture, called Feldheim Energie GmbH & Co. The new company built a biogas factory that converts pig manure and unused corn into heat, taking advantage of the community’s 700 pigs and 1,700 acres of arable farmland. The biogas plant is fed from the town’s agricultural cooperative and produces of electricity a year. A 400-kilowatt, wood-chip furnace fueled by the byproduct of forest thinning helps to firm the power from wind and biogas.
By 2009 Feldheim was producing all its own energy with renewable sources. Residents then wanted to take things a step further and free themselves from the large utility company, E.on, which was supplying the grid.
E.on refused to either sell or lease the part of its energy grid that ran through Feldheim. So the people took the matter into their own hands, and decided to build their own. Each of the 150 residents contributed 3,000 Euros (~$4,000 at today’s exchange rates) so that they could build their own smart grid. With help from Energiequelle and financing from the European Union and government subsidies, the smart grid was completed in 2010, making Feldheim then the only town in Germany with its own mini-grid. This allows the locally produced heat and electricity to be fed straight to consumers and gives them control over their electrical prices, which are set at community meetings.
They now pay 31 percent less for electricity and 10 percent less for heating than before. The town consumes less than one percent of the electricity produced annually by its wind turbines and solar panels, selling the rest back to the market. This lowers their electricity bills to around half the national average. The biogas plant not only sells electricity back to the market, but also supplies the entire community with heating, saving over 160,000 liters of heating oil each year. As an added benefit, the plant produces over three million gallons of high-quality fertilizer annually that the agricultural cooperative uses.
Feldheim has also installed a plug-and-pay EV charging station in the town center, and next plans to install a 10-MW battery later this year. The storage will help balance the community microgrid’s generation and load.
There are now more wind turbines than houses in the town. While residents don’t mind the noise or aesthetics of the wind turbines, there has been some opposition from neighboring towns, which didn’t—until recently—directly benefit from the wind farm. “In order to make neighbors feel more at ease with the wind farm, we are offering power at a special rate,” Energiequelle spokesman Werner Frohwitter told Rocky Mountain Institute. “Our aim is to let as many people as possible directly benefit from our turbines, thus encouraging social acceptance for renewable energies.”
All the renewable projects also created jobs. While other villages in the economically depressed state of Brandenburg have roughly a 30 percent unemployment rate, Feldheim virtually erased its unemployment. Most residents work in the biogas plant or maintain the wind and solar farms. And the town, which has not a single museum or restaurant, has seen an influx of visitors. Three thousand people visit the small town of 150 each year. This has prompted the foundation of a new organization, Förderverein des Neuen Energieforums Feldheim (Friends of the New Energies Forum Feldheim), which is converting an old inn into a renewable energy information and training center. The hope is that when the center opens in the fall of 2014 it will bring even more visitors to Feldheim, generating more jobs and income for the villagers.
Feldheim has proven that a high-renewables energy future is possible today. “There have been and are still occurring remarkable changes (in Feldheim),” says Frohwitter. The small town is thriving thanks to its confidence in renewable energy technologies.
Visit EcoWatch’s RENEWABLES page for more related news on this topic.
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Jean-Marc Neveu and Olivier Civil never expected to find themselves battling against disposable mask pollution.
When they founded their recycling start-up Plaxtil in 2017, it was textile waste they set their sights on. The project developed a process that turned fabrics into a new recyclable material they describe as "ecological plastic."
Mounting Piles of Waste<p>It is not only the streets of Chatellerault where pandemic pollution is piling-up, but also the world's beaches and oceans. Once there, they can take up to 450 years to degrade and disappear.</p><p>Esther Röling, co-organizer of the annual Adventure Clean Up Challenge held on Hong Kong Island, has seen this waste firsthand. In October the sports challenge pitted teams against one another in a competition to remove trash from 13 hard-to-reach coastal areas around the city.</p><p>They find tons of both disposable and reusable masks, said Röling. "You wonder how it ended up there. Was it just thrown on the ground? Or was it in a garbage bag that broke open?"</p><p>Almost 10,000 kilometers away in Antibes on the sunny French Riviera, it's a similar picture. For the past few months, divers and clean-up volunteers working with an ocean clean-up non-profit called Operation Mer Propre have been collecting an increasing number of masks found on land and in the sea.</p><p>"Since the beginning of the lockdown when we started to count, we've reached 800, 900, [and now in total] 1000 masks," said co-founder Joko Peltier. </p><p>According to <a href="https://unctad.org/news/growing-plastic-pollution-wake-covid-19-how-trade-policy-can-help" target="_blank">UN estimates</a>, up to 75% of all coronavirus-related plastic could end up as waste in oceans and landfills.</p>
The Limits of Recycling<p>Yet not all are convinced the recycling of this waste is possible on a global scale. </p><p>"What those citizen groups are doing is really beneficial but once they collect it, it should just go to a landfill or an incinerator. They shouldn't necessarily expect it to get recycled," said Jonathan Krones, an industrial ecologist and visiting assistant professor of environmental studies at Boston College.</p><p>That's because mask recycling programs like Plaxtil are few and far between and most don't have the benefit of a readily adaptable production process. </p><p>Even in countries with solid recycling infrastructure, he says, the system is designed to separate out specific types of waste like bottles or cardboard.</p><p>"I imagine that it would be technically feasible to develop a separation process to filter out masks, but there simply aren't enough of them to make that economical," he said.</p><p>Collection is a big hurdle, he adds. Since each mask only weighs a fraction of a gram and they're scattered on roads or mixed with other trash, it is difficult and costly. </p><p>"You need a lot of raw material of the right quality to make investing in the recycling technology and the recycling system worthwhile," he said.<span></span><br></p>
Hemp, Sugar Cane and Sustainable Alternatives<p>Some projects are instead addressing the material used to make masks.</p><p>French company Geochanvre have created a mask made primarily from hemp, while in Australia, researchers at the Queensland University of Technology are experimenting with a disposable product made from agricultural waste. </p><p>Biodegradable options are exciting alternatives to reduce the fossil fuels needed for the creation of plastic-based masks, said Krones, but they don't absolve the wearer from the responsibility of what happens afterwards. </p><p>Bio-based masks often need their own composing solutions, he explains, because in landfill they can produce high amounts of the greenhouse gas methane when anaerobic bacteria feeds on the organic material. Methane is known to be significantly more potent than carbon dioxide.</p><p>"I think as long as we have in our mind that we want to have disposability, we're going to have to wrestle with a variety of different sorts of environmental tradeoffs," he said, adding that reusable, fabric masks are the best option available to most people.</p><p>Precimask is developing a clear face covering with an optional visor made from hard plastic, designed to be long-lasting.<br></p><p>Air enters either side of the cheeks through a technology normally found in pool filters and car exhaust systems, said company spokeswoman Juliette Chambet.</p><p>"We wanted to make ceramic-based filters that would be washable and cleanable, which would allow them to be reused as many times as desired without having to buy a new consumable or produce waste," she said. </p><p>Ultimately, encouraging mask wearers to think about the entire lifecycle of a mask is key, explains Neveu. </p><p>"We want people who put on the masks to realize that they are also responsible for the waste, he said. "It's not inevitable that this [pandemic] will become an environmental catastrophe.</p><p><em>Reposted with permission from </em><em><a href="https://www.dw.com/en/covid-19-recycling-pollution-trash-pandemic/a-55707817" target="_blank">Deutsche Welle</a>.</em><a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/r/entryeditor/2649032193#/" target="_self"></a></p>
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