In Bavaria, Germany, there’s a village that produces five times more energy than it consumes. With rooftops covered in solar panels, an installation of wind turbines, and a range of other eco-friendly projects, Wildpoldsried is leading the way in renewable energy. Its successful sustainability strategy has provided a model for other German municipalities, as well as settlements around the world, to follow as they make the change from dependence on fossil fuels to renewables.
Germany is currently involved in a renewable energy transformation. This shift, known as the Energiewende, has seen villages across the country become self-sufficient in their energy consumption, producing enough power from the renewables they host to earn money back by selling their surplus to the national grid. This money they can then invest in other community projects, such as building new village halls, libraries and playgrounds. The Energiewende is supported by the German government, through investments and subsidies. Germany intends to be free from nuclear power by 2022, and many of their nuclear power stations have already closed ahead of schedule. By 2030 they aim for 65% of their energy to be from renewables, with the supplies required for the transport, construction and manufacturing industries integrated alongside household needs.
But the village of Wildpoldsried was aiming for sustainability long before the Energiewende became a part of German policy.
Wildpoldsried began its transformation into a renewable village back in 1999. It was at this time that the council, led by their mayor, Arno Zengerle, looked at ways to build new industries, keep initiatives local, and to bring in new revenue, all whilst creating no debt. They crafted a document titled ‘Wildpoldsried Innovativ Richtungsweisend‘ (WIR-2020, or ‘Wildpoldsried Innovative Leadership’). This document is the basis for everything they’ve done since. It covered three different areas:
- Renewable Energy and Saving Energy
- Ecological Construction of Buildings Using Ecological Building Materials (mainly wood-based)
- Protection of Water and Water Resources (both above and below ground) and Ecological Disposal of Wastewater.
Nineteen years later, the village, with its population of approximately 2600, is home to an astonishing array of renewable energy projects. Numerous houses around the village are fitted with photovoltaic panels. There are five biogas facilities, eleven wind turbines, and a hydropower system. There are several municipal and residential biomass heating systems, plus 2,100 m² of solar thermal systems. Five other private residences are heated by geothermal systems. A number of electric cars can be found around the village.
There are also a number of ongoing green projects around the village, continuing to fulfill the aims set out in WIR-2020. Many of the new buildings have been constructed from locally sourced timber, using Passivhaus techniques – including a school and a parking garage – encouraging forestry in the area. The creation of the WiWaLaMoor wetlands protects the village from flooding, whilst also encouraging wildlife.
Use the renewable resources, intelligent technology and be independent. The sun alone gives us more energy than all the world needs.
Arno Zengerle, Wildpoldsried Mayor
The original intention for the village was for them to be producing 100% of their energy by 2020. They smashed that target within a few years. By 2011 they were producing 321% of the energy that the village needed. Whilst some of their surplus energy is stored in batteries for use at times when no energy is being produced, much of it is sold. In 2011 this earned them them a revenue of €4.0m. By 2017 energy production had increased to 500%, with an equivalent increase in profit for the community.
As it is so far ahead of the rest of the country in its use of renewable power sources, Wildpoldsreid has been used by Siemen’s and local universities as the testing ground for new intelligent control systems, or smart grids. These smart grids ensure that the energy surpluses produced by renewables don’t put electricity networks at risk. They are also able to constantly supply sufficient electricity to consumers, even as varying weather conditions cause energy production to fluctuate. Such smart grids are going to become increasingly important as more and more reliance is placed on renewable energy sources. The initial project, known as IRENE (Integration of Renewable Energy and Electric Vehicles), has now concluded and Siemens are currently on the second phase, IREN2. For this part of the project, Wildpoldsried has been disconnected from the national grid, creating an island micro-grid. Siemens are now looking at how energy produced on one micro grid can be transported to another. Once the big power stations are no longer online, it will be essential for many micro grids to unite in order to fully power the country.
Wildpoldsried is leading the way and proving just what can be done when whole communities become involved in creating a greener way of life. It is not only the rest of Germany that are taking note of their success, however. The village’s model of sustainable energy production is one that can be used in settlements around the world. Over the past fifteen years Wildpoldsried has become known as a star ‘energy-village’ and has received visitors from countries as diverse as Vietnam, Côte d’Ivoire, Benin, Myanmar and Iraq. They now regularly offer excursions to share their green projects with visitors, and have hosted several hundred visitors over the past few year. These include town and village councils, journalists, diplomats, and experts, all of whom wish to see how Wildpoldsried has achieved its energy sustainability.
Since 2011 Mayor Zengerle, has also toured the world, visiting Romania, Berlin, the Black Sea Region, and South Africa, as well as a number of other places. He uses these opportunities to speak about how communities can be transformed and make money in the process. The main point he emphasizes is the necessity of involving the whole community in the process. Had the inhabitants of Wildpoldsried not given 100% backing to the move to renewable energy, many investing their own money into the projects, the village would not be the inspirational place it is today. Local resident, Thomas Pfluger, for example, invested $110,000 in the wind turbines, and receives approximately 6% of this back as profit each year. Martin Haartman chose to invest in solar energy. He covered his garage in photovoltaic panels and is now energy self-sufficient.
Hopefully in years to come more villages and towns will be like Wildpoldsried, with a wealth of renewable energy supplies on their doorsteps. Only then can a reliance on energy from fossil fuels and nuclear reactors become a thing of the past.
If you’d like to know more about Germany’s renewable village, or arrange a visit, you can check out Wildpoldsried’s website here. You could also watch this video from Climate Reality for more information.