” width=”424″ height=”160″ />Twenty years ago Germany had passed a law to provide limited support for the small-scale production of renewable energy. At the same time, Wolfgang Zirngibl, the Mayor of Ascha, a village of 1,500 near the Czech border, saw an opportunity to change his community. Ascha had very few businesses of its own, and most of its residents commuted to their jobs elsewhere. The community did have a number of farmers, and the village is surrounded by agricultural fields and forests. As Germany goes, Ascha is also quite sunny. Taking advantage of the new renewable energy law, Mayor Zirngibl and his supporters laid out a plan for his community to begin producing some of its electricity and heat using renewable energy and local resources. The final goal would be to create an energy-independent community. This initiative was based on four pillars: 1. Renewable energy is environmentally friendly; 2. Ascha has sufficient renewable resources; 3. Renewables are likely to be less expensive over the long run; and 4. Investments in renewable energy will keep more economic value in the community and the region.
Ascha, Germany (Courtesy Photo)
Progress toward the village’s final objective of becoming a net energy producer has been steady over time and is quickly coming to fruition. As of 2011, solar panels, a small hydropower plant, and a biogas-fueled turbine together produced over 120% of the community’s electricity needs. With the installation of district heating, the village also covers over 50% of its heating needs using renewable energy. To limit the amount of energy needed to reach these goals, the community started by reducing energy demand and by investing in the improvement of the energy
performance of its houses and buildings. By increasing the energy efficiency of the structures and by changing consumption patterns, less heat and electricity is needed in each household. In addition to decreasing the amount of energy needed to meet its renewable energy objective, these investments have two other features: they have lowered the monthly heating and electricity bills of residents and much of the work has been done by local contractors. The renewable energy facilities have had a similar employment effect.
Beyond the employment effects and the lowered energy costs, investing in renewable energy in Ascha has created a class of energy “prosumers”. Prosumers are producers and consumers of energy. While the ownership structure of each renewable facility in Ascha is different, each is owned by one or more residents of the village or by the village administration itself – from which all citizens benefit. The German people’s continued support for renewable energy policies can be traced, in part, to the fact that over 20% of German households have ownership stakes in renewable energy producing facilities – be they solar panels, wind mills, biogas plants, etc. This democratization of the production of energy has opened similar opportunities to households, villages, cities, and towns across Germany. Ascha is but one example of the ways that Germans are using renewable energy to forge a more sustainable future.
This post was written by Dominic Marcellino. He has been a Fellow at Ecologic Institute in Washington, DC since the fall of 2008. His work focuses primarily on energy policy (including bioenergy, energy efficiency, renewable energy, and transportation), climate change policy in Europe and the US, as well as emissions trading systems. He regularly leads transatlantic study tours and exchanges for American and European policymakers and stakeholders. In 2008-09, he spent eleven months living and working in Germany as a Robert Bosch Fellow.