Feldheim leading the way in local energy


Feldheim in Germany continues to prove a model of what can be done to make a community self-sufficient when it comes to energy.

The village is about to put the icing on the cake of its energy-ideal community with a plant to perform the installation of a lithium storage battery by the end of 2014. The battery will provide enough electricity to supply the village for up to four days, in the unlikely scenario that wind levels drop for a sustained period of time.

Geolog this week highlighted the village as a beacon when it comes to the possibility of a zero-emissions future for the rest of Europe and indeed the world.

Germany’s first and only energy self-sufficient community dates back to 1995when a local entrepreneur paid for the first wind turbines to be installed on nearby fields, the highest (and windiest) flat ground in the state of Brandenburg. Next, the village bought its own electricity grid, severing ties with the regional grid and the major national provider that operates it.

This vital transition required a steep initial investment of €2.2m, financed through one-off connection fees paid by local homeowners together with subsidies of €850,000 provided by the German government and European Union.

Finally, the village forged links both with local power firm Energiequelle GmbH, which agreed to install a fleet of wind turbines in return for the right to sell excess power back on the market, and with a regional agricultural cooperative, which put up over 350 hectares of land to grow corn required for biogas.

Feldheim derives its electricity and heating from three main sources. Firstly, a 43-turbine wind farm, with a total installed electrical capacity of 74.1 MW, generates 129 million kWh of electricity per year, or enough to power nearly 7,000 UK homes.

Simultaneously, a biogas plant (500 kW), operated by the local agricultural cooperative, generates 4 million kWh of electricity per year (enough to power just over 200 UK homes) from an input of manure, corn, and whole grain cereal. Electricity from the biogas plant is sold on the public market, but the heat produced during power generation is fed into a separately-installed heating grid, which heats the village’s private homes, commercial enterprises, and livestock enclosures. Finally, on particularly cold days, additional heating is supplied through a 400 kW woodchip furnace.

The fact that there are financial incentives in having such a venture makes the Feldheim project all the more attractive.

Feldheim consumes under 1% of the electricity produced annually by its wind turbines, selling the remainder back on the market; the process lowers local electricity bills to around half (16.6 cents per kWh) of the national average and to around the same level as in Poland, where over 90% of electricity is generated using carbon-intensive coal-fired plants.

At the same time, also selling its electricity back to the market as well as supplying the entire community with heating, the village’s biogas plant saves the inhabitants of Feldheim over 160,000 litres of heating oil each year. It is set to break even on the initial investment of €1.75 million towards the building of the plant within a decade.

In 2008, it constructed a solar farm comprising 284 panels. The installation produces a total annual output of 2,748 mWh, or enough to cover the annual power requirements of around 600 four-person households. The construction of the panels, which sit on trackers that tilt horizontally and vertically, has also created 20 local jobs and rejuvenated the 45-hectare area of Selterhof, a former Soviet telecommunications centre dismantled and restored to its natural state as a result of the project.

Solar energy is sold back to the market, subsidising the cost of electricity for Feldheim residents.

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