A little village in Germany, Feldheim, claims to be the only 100% grid-independent village in the world. It is a rural community that switched to renewables for financial reasons, but is now visited by thousands and thousands of people. The tour guide who showed us around noted that his most interesting group was when he had government officials from North Korea on one side of the tables and members of the US Republican Party on the other side*.
The Only Energy-Independent Village in Germany
The German village of Feldheim claims to be the first and only energy-independent village in the world. I’m quite positive there are villages in the developing world that are completely energy independent, so I’ll just take that to mean that it is the first energy-independent village in the developed world… (unless there are actually some energy-independent ecovillages out there).
Anyhow, the is definitely the first energy-independent village in Germany, and one of the first in the modern world. The village does not use coal, natural gas, or nuclear energy in any way.
Note, however, that this does not included transportation, as villagers do use conventional gasoline-powered vehicles. The marketing is really a bit loose with the term “energy” when it actually means “electricity and heat.”
Other than for transportation purposes, though, the only things this village uses for energy are what nature provides to it within 5-7 kilometers. The village has its own microgrid and does not take electricity from the German grid at all.
Wind Led the Way
Everything started in 1995 when a student traveled around Brandenburg with a wind map and eventually found a mayor in this area who was interested in having a wind farm installed.
Four wind turbines were initially installed in 1995. Now, there are 47 with a total capacity of 91 MW. The wind farm is externally owned, but it provides most of Feldheim’s electricity. The wind turbines produce electricity 90% of the time. (It’s very windy there!)
The wind farm, built by an external developer, also sends electricity to the German grid.
Our tour guide, who was not a villager but one of 5 voluntary tour guides, noted to us that trust has been an essential component of this village’s renewable energy development, trust between the villagers and the wind farm developer as well as trust between the members of the village.
From Wind to Biogas
Aside from the wind turbines, in 2008, there was a need to replace the heating systems in the village buildings. All being built during previous GDR times, there was the opportunity to replace all of the heating systems at once with a village network of biogas heating, and the town decided to do so (with only 1 person out of 120 deciding not to participate… due to the fact that he had rooftop solar panels and wanted to continue taking advantage of the country’s feed-in tariff system).
Aside from providing the villagers with energy independence, this biogas system also helped struggling farmers in the village to survive during a difficult agricultural period.
The biogas system produces up to 500 kW of electricity and 500 kW of thermal energy (heat). The electricity from the biogas system fills in during the 10% of the time when the wind turbines are not producing electricity.
The wind turbines produce electricity more cheaply, so there is a system in place where a small smiley face is located in the homes which shows when electricity is coming from wind power (the face is then smiling) or from biogas (the face is then frowning). Thus, householders can easily use large appliances such as washing machines when the electricity is coming from the wind turbines.
A backup biomass system (for heating) uses waste wood from the local forestry business. It is 100% waste wood and is actually only needed on rare occasions.
Huge Financial Savings
Before this project started six years ago, the village (villagers and companies locate there) paid out 500,000 euros per year for imported energy. Now, they pay out nothing.
When the village asked to feed electricity into E.ON’s grid, E.ON would not agree, so Feldheim decided to build its own grid. Since then, E.ON and the other three large German utilities have blocked every other attempt to create a completely independent village grid like this one. Other green energy communities in Germany just get 40-60% of their electricity from their own green sources.
To finance the biogas system, the villagers took a loan of 1.3 million euros for a 10-year period, which is now 6 years over. That actually results in Feldheim having the cheapest electricity in all of Germany. The Feldheim villagers pay ~17.4 euro cents per kWh, while the average across Germany is ~28 euro cents per kWh. If you look at the situation about 20 years out, Feldheim villagers will likely be paying ~half the national average.
Next Step (Side Story)
The wind farm developer, Energiequelle (Energy Source), is also building a 10 MW battery system, the biggest in the world, using LG battery cells and an Enercon management system. The project has been underway for about 4 years. The developer was originally going to use lead-acid batteries from Japan, and then Siemens was going to do it, and now it has switched to LG. Ground was broken 4 weeks ago.
The battery system, like the Younicos battery system I discussed in another article, will provide primary frequency regulation for the German grid. It will allow Germany to use much more of the renewable electricity Energiequelle produces. Whether or not it competes with the system Younicos has developed, we will have to see, but I think it’s unlikely that Enercon has spent 8 years developing its management system or that it has 50 software engineers and 120 people in total working on it. I’ll have to dig in a bit to see how much is behind Enercon’s system.
To close out, here’s a picture of me charging up my iPad Mini on 100% renewable electricity; a couple pictures of small (500 kW) wind turbine parts on display in the village; and short video of a nice wind farm near the Polish/German border that I recorded on my way back from my 1-week cleantech tour of Germany:
*My cleantech tour of Germany was hosted by Germany Trade & Invest, with transportation, accommodation, and some meals covered by the organization. No content requirements have been put on me.