Mohan Murti

Go green like Germany

Mohan Murti | Updated on August 20, 2013

Solar is serious stuff here.

Its homes run on solar and wind energy. No one’s complaining.

Nestled close to the Swiss and French border, the university town of Freiburg in the German Black Forest has always been my much-loved weekend destination. Also, famous for cuckoo clocks, Freiburg is now also known as a “Green City”.

Last week, I visited my friend, an architect celebrity, Rolf Disch, and see the marvel he has created – the world’s first-ever Solar Settlement in Freiburg.

He is the biggest proponent and most well-known voice in the ‘energy plus house’ idea in Germany. With his innovative design ideas, he has been shaking up potential for the future — not just in abstract ways, but in already created ‘zero-energy’ and ‘energy plus’ buildings, all around Germany.

What is ‘Energy Plus Home’?

Rolf Disch established this first-ever family safe, car-free residential environment with 50 plus homes, constructed entirely of black forest wood in the Schlierberg Solar Settlement, of Freiburg, some ten years ago.

What is even more interesting is that every house receives money each year for the excess power they generate and feed back to the national grid! I wanted to find out how and Rolf Disch explained. It is simple, he said –— “an ‘Energy Plus Home’ generates more power and heat than it consumes”.

Each time I visit India, I am flabbergasted at the amount of building facade that goes unused for solar energy generation –— despite the fact that we have almost 365 days of brilliant sunshine.

Blueprint for rural green energy

Yet another unique blueprint the Germans have created is in Feldheim, a small village about a 100 km drive south of the German capital Berlin and home to about 125 people. This remote hamlet is Germany’s first and only energy self-sufficient village and attracts both international energy experts and politicians. In Feldheim, it is all clean energy — a mix of 43 wind turbines, a woodchip-fired heating plant and a biogas plant that uses cattle and pig slurry as well as maize silage.

I wish this happens in India and our dependence on inefficient power utilities ends. The EU has also stipulated that all new buildings will have to be ‘zero energy’ homes starting in 2020. Germany is already a leader in ‘passive houses,’ which make heating systems in homes largely redundant. The architecture is such that heat from the kitchen and from human bodies suffices to warm the house. And, when solar roofs are added to passive houses, the homes essentially produce more energy than they consume.

Switch to Green Energy

A lot of people outside Germany are cynical of the German Energy Transition, or Energiewende — this forceful endeavour in Germany to switch to a renewable energy economy.

But, Germany is already proving the sceptics wrong by demonstrating that an affluent industrial economy can switch from nuclear and fossil energy to renewable and that too, efficiently. On sunny and windy days, solar panels and wind turbines now supply up to half the country’s electricity demand, which no one expected just a few years ago. Germans want clean energy, and a lot of them want to produce it themselves.

Yes, there is almost a silent revolution taking place — locally, in cities and communities. The entire nation seems to be on an enthusiastic transition.The energy transition mission in Germany has become the largest post-war infrastructure project — estimated at colossal €550 billion through 2050. More than 5,00,000 Germans already work in the renewable sector — far larger than in the conventional energy sector.

The author is former Europe Director, CII, and lives in Cologne, Germany

Published on August 20, 2013

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