Wildpoldsried, a Bavarian village of about 2,600 residents, is leading the way in Germany’s extraordinary renewable energy transformation. Over the past 17 years, the village has invested in a holistic range of renewable energy projects that include 4,983 kWp of photovoltaics, five biogas facilities, 11 wind turbines and a hydropower system. As a result, the village has gone beyond energy independence – and it now produces 500% more energy than it needs and profits from sales of the surplus power back to the grid.
Renewable energy projects in Germany have gained enormous traction in recent years, propelled by government subsidies that are designed to lower costs, reduce dependence on fossil fuels, and move the nation entirely away from nuclear power; this transformation is known as the Energiewende. As a result, Germans will soon be getting 30 percent of their power from renewable sources—that’s twice as much as U.S. households receive.
On a local level, Wildpoldsried has far exceeded the successes seen across Germany. The villages’s commitment to renewable energy began in 1999, when the city council crafted a document titled “Wildpoldsried Innovativ Richtungsweisend” (WIR-2020, or Wildpoldsried Innovative Leadership). The document looked at how the town might encourage growth and invest in new community facilities without incurring debt. As Biocycle explains, the WIR-2020 contained three main areas of focus: “1) Renewable Energy and Saving Energy; 2) Ecological Construction of Buildings Using Ecological Building Materials (mainly wood-based); and 3) Protection of Water and Water Resources (both above and below ground) and Ecological Disposal of Wastewater.”
Through these three areas of focus, Wildpoldsried sought to produce 100 percent of their electricity from renewable energy sources by 2020. But in a relatively small, engaged community where, as one resident explained, there is a notion of “thriftiness… I don’t need to buy what I can make,” the projects advanced much faster than anyone might have expected. By 2011, the village was producing 321 percent of the electricity it needed, and was receiving $5.7 million in payments for the surplus.
The entire list of Wildpoldsreid’s projects is pretty remarkable: in addition to the five biogas plants, 4,983 kWp of photovoltaics, 11 wind turbines and the hydropower system, the town is also home to several municipal and residential biomass heating systems and 2,100 m² of solar thermal systems. Five private residences are heated by geothermal systems and passivhaus techniques have been used in some new construction. One is also likely to see a fair number of electric cars dotting about.
With such a diversity of renewable energy sources, the town operates a smart grid that, as Siemens explains “maintains the balance between energy production and consumption and keeps the power grid stable.”
As Windpoldsreid’s Deputy Mayor, Günter Mögele, explained to the Financial Times: “I think people were surprised that the Energiewende is happening so fast,” and certainly it is not without it’s headaches for those looking at the issue on a national level. But Windpoldsried is a spectacular example of what can happen on a local level when residents and municipalities take matters into their own hands.
Lead image via Shutterstock