State Sen. Jason Frerichs tours one of the largest solar parks in the world in southern Germany.
It’s day three of our trip to Germany, specificallyBavaria. It’s the state that has seen the most growth in the renewable energy sector over the last decade. We had the opportunity to tour one of the largest solar parks in the world. The park has an incredible amount of solar panels that sit on about 375 acres of land. The landowner is a farmer by trade, but has also invented many products, and a few years ago added these solar panels to his land. It was made possible by what are called “feed-in tariffs” that incentivize the production of renewable sources of energy. We’ve heard a lot about feed-in tariffs while we’ve been here, and it’s a system of payments made from utility companies to help spur growth in the renewable energy industry. It’s a concept that will give guaranteed payments to those willing to invest in renewable projects. They sell the energy (and consume some themselves) to the utility companies. The utilities are required to feed the energy into the grid. It’s a concept that has really led to a lot of projects that most likely would not have been invested in otherwise. It’s unclear whether this kind of system would be right for theU.S., but some of its elements could definitely help expand renewable energy at home.
The two street lights you see are in the community of Ascha, Bavaria. The community produces 130% of its energy needs.
After touring the solar park, we were able to visit a really interesting small village that has embraced renewable energy in a big way. It’s a small town of about 1,200 people called Ascha. There are an amazing amount of solar panels on many roofs across the village. They’ve designed new construction to help people be able to walk nearly anywhere they want to go, while implementing ideas that have brought things like solar powered street lights, a heating system that uses wood chips to provide heat to its residents. Village officials say they produce over 130-percent of the community’s energy demands.
After the tour of Ascha we were able to have a lot of fun and experience some real German culture. We attended a festival in Straubing, which isBavaria’s largest folk festival after the Oktoberfest.
Today we did a lot of traveling which included presentations and a tour of Bavarian forestry management. They’re producing woody biomass derived from the forest and they’re practicing short rotation forestry. They’re planting trees to be harvesting after a 5 year growing period. The “crop” of trees is harvested for wood chips to heat homes and businesses. The Germans are also have trouble with beetles that are ravaging some of their forests. Just like the beetles that are taking a toll on trees in the Black Hills. They’re working on solutions and insect management programs.
The day also included a stop at a biogas facility that turns cattle manure into energy. There were presentations focused on biogas as an energy source. There are thousands of biogas facilities across Germany that provide energy, and a profitable use for waste. Germans tout biogas as the only renewable energy source that is fully established technologically, producing heat, steam, electricity and vehicle fuel. Across Europe there are roughly 6,000 biogas plants in agriculture and industry. 5,000 of those are located right here in Germany.
One of the things I’ve learned about Germany, other than the fact that I should stay away from sauerkraut, is that it’s very densely populated. Over 80 million people are crammed into this country, which is only about the size of Montana. That dense population brings challenges, but also advantages when it comes to renewable energy. The transmission challenges in the energy sector aren’t as difficult or stretch out as far as it does in theU.S.It’s been incredibly interesting to experience what this country has done to reach its goals.
Tonight is our last in Germany for a couple of days. We’ll travel to Austria tomorrow morning to tour a biomass combined heat and power plant in Linz,Austria. We’ll also hear about the “EnergyAcademy” and meet with the president of the Upper Austrian Chamber of Agriculture.
Stay tuned for more updates in the days to come!