In Germany, power from the people

The 40-household village of Feldheim is a showcase for self-sufficiency in electricity generation

April 08, 2017 07:35 pm | Updated April 09, 2017 07:54 am IST - Feldheim

Wind turbines at the energy-sufficient village of Feldheim in Germany.

Wind turbines at the energy-sufficient village of Feldheim in Germany.

There is nothing remarkable about Feldheim, a picturesque village about 75 km southwest of Berlin. Except, that is, the tall wind turbines dotting the landscape around it, the only clue that this 40-household settlement is a role model in the world of renewable energy and self-sufficiency for energy consumers.

Feldheim has become synonymous with the rise of the ‘prosumer’ (a new economy portmanteau of producer and consumer), a term finding resonance across the world.

With a wind farm, solar park, biogas plant, and Germany’s largest battery storage system, the village is independent of the regional utility grid, getting all its electricity and heat — a significant factor in an area which experiences sub-zero winter temperatures — from a local grid paid for by residents, the municipality, EU subsidies and loans.

Energy to spare

Project developer Energiequelle GmbH operates the 55 wind turbines (capacity 125.1 MW) on land leased from the villagers. Solar photovoltaic modules mounted on tracking systems generate additional power.

Most of what is generated is sold to the grid, and residents pay much less than the national average for their electricity.

In addition, there is a biogas plant, with an installed capacity of 526 kW. It is powered by slurry — dung mixed with water — from livestock, and energy crops like maize and rye cultivated in the village.

“While the power produced by the plant is fed into the grid, the heat is piped to households, cattle farms and small businesses, mostly handicrafts units, helping the community save about 1,60,000 litres of heating oil every year,” says Werner Frohwitter, spokesman for Emergiequelle GmbH. A wood-chip boiler unit provides heat on extremely cold days.

Focus on renewables

The village is also home to the 10 MW Feldheim Regional Regulating Power Station, Germany’s biggest lithium ion battery storage unit, which is used for load-balancing of the grid, critical to accommodate a higher share of renewable energy.

Feldheim is a shining example of how enabling policies and regulatory mechanisms can help to democratise the energy sector, shifting the balance of power towards consumers who produce and store energy themselves and making informed choices about energy usage.

Community engagement

It also shows how power utilities are finding better ways to engage with consumers and ensure a smooth energy transition.

The project has triggered a wave of similar community initiatives across Germany, as the country moves away from coal and nuclear power. Karsten Lindloff, Director, Energy systems, Deutsche Energie-Agentur (dena) the German energy agency, says that more than 1000 energy cooperatives across the country are involved in the expansion of renewable energies, contributing to reduction in carbon emissions.

(The writer was one of the international delegates to the Berlin Energy Transition Dialogue in March and was taken to Feldheim for a first-hand experience of the model.)

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