Buses and trains took us from the nuclear power plant outside of Hamburg to our hostel in Husum, where Hans Fedderson and Wolfgang Paulsen greeted us for a lively discussion about wind energy. In the 1970’s Hans and Wolfgang were involved in anti-nuclear protests and decided that they were tired of being against something and would rather work towards a positive solution. Hans and Wolfgang have worked on community wind projects in recent years and led us in a discussion of the history of wind in Germany, the future of wind, viability of renewable energy and the benefits of community wind projects.
Energy Independence in Germany has received more attention in recent years as the country is confronted with
- Climate issues
- Resource depletion
- Increasing desire for energy independence.
Energy is an interesting issue because it affects us all. We all use lights and heat our living spaces. Hans and Wolfgang presented the three options that we have in the face of the current climate situation and said that a sustainable solution will need to be a combination of all three.
- Behavior change (least expensive)
- Energy efficiency (2nd least expensive)
- Alternative energy (most expensive)
Germany is ahead of many countries in the area of wind technology as they started producing wind power in the late 80’s/early 90’s. In 2000 a law was passed that said that if an individual produced energy he/she would get a fixed feed-in tariff for 20 years. Other European countries and Canada have recently adopted a similar law. Germany is happy to have shared this innovative piece of legislature with other countries and hope that more governments will be interested in the near future. This feed-in tariff allows people to more easily get a loan from the bank for large projects, like installing a wind turbine, since their 20-year income is more or less determined by the tariff. The United States does not have a feed-in tariff law, which makes it difficult for people in lower income brackets to secure loans and invest in wind projects.
Wind energy in Germany
The country has plans to build 20,000 more megawatts in the next few years and Hans and Wolfgang shared with us that the north of Germany could easily produce all of its own electricity through wind.
Big nuclear power plants, like the one we visited in Brokdorf, bring in $1,000,000 of profits in a single day. Hans and Wolfgang’s opinion is that nuclear power plants are money machines and are not something that Germany needs.
Instead, Germany needs to build new grids that will have the capacity to take more renewables. This is something that large coal and nuclear companies don’t want and it’s tough to get legislation to change the current grid because the government has already made promises to nuclear and coal companies.
Husum alone has 4000 turbines and it’s only a town of 21,000 people. Wind is the least expensive form of renewable energy in Northern Germany, but in other countries it’s different (ie Hydro is cheaper in Norway and solar makes the most sense in Spain).
Community Wind Projects
Hans and Wolfgang told us about a $6 million dollar project that took place just outside of Husum. Community members only needed to pay $1000 to become a member of the project and they would see returns on their investment, as well as have a say in how the project was carried out. An advantage of involving people in the process is that the owners of the project are the same people who will also need to look at the turbine every day since it will be nearly in their backyard. They learn to respect and accept the sight of wind turbines in a way that people who aren’t connected to the project aren’t able to do. Project members see the lights and hear the noise, but they receive the profits and green energy, so they understand the benefits.
Benefits of Community Wind Projects:
- Financed through local banks
- Community members are engaged in the process
- Everyone has a chance to participate and to see financial benefits
- No protests and no enemies come from the process.
- Lots of money stays in the region, which makes the local economy stronger.
The Story of Butendiek
Hans and Wolfgang had been working on a project called Butendiek, which is an offshore wind project. Off-shore wind farms have a few benefits, namely that larger turbines are installed that product more energy and that wind blows faster and more often, making the energy source more reliable. They had found 8400 investors for a project that had a price tag of $500 million dollars, but the price of the project recently jumped to $1 billion dollars, making the project no longer affordable.
The project ended up being sold to a large company, which Hans and Wolfgang said this is a growing trend. The large coal and nuclear companies see that their business model is no longer going to be viable so they are investing in offshore wind projects. However, big companies make offshore wind very expensive because of their profit-based nature.
Employees in the energy industry
Though nuclear produces a larger chunk of Germany’s energy, the renewable energy industry actually employs more people. Here is a breakdown of employees by energy sector:
- Nuclear: 30,000 people
- Wind: 100,000 people
- Solar: 150,000 people
- Biogas: 50,000 people
It seems as though in the face of a struggling economy, renewable energy may be worth the investment.