Freiamt is technically a town, though in fact it is a collection of five small villages. It sits in the southwestern German state of Baden-Württemberg, the Black Forest, about 20 minutes from Freiburg am Breisgau. The 4300 citizens, like those of many other German communities, are moving toward 100% reliance on renewable sources for power and heat. They have taken a somewhat different approach to how this is to be done, however.
The unusual approach is not that they have worked with different combinations of technology. Like many other German towns, they use a mix of solar, wind, and biomass, with a small addition of hydropower. They use their biomass in a district heating system, but that is also not unusual.
The thing that makes Freiamt different is how the community accomplished this. They started this move in a series of steps, so people could become familiar with the technologies, their benefits, and the objections that might be raised. They were not asked to commit to a large project without knowing what the potential downsides might be.
They started with community projects. A wind farm was built, but it consisted of only two turbines to start with. Local people were able to buy shares of the turbines, at minimum price of €3,000 ($4,170). While this required a level of commitment, the price was not so high that a person had to be wealthy to take part.
Along with the first wind turbines came solar arrays, which were added in steps. The town’s municipal complex had an array of PVs installed to provide for the community. When they decided to add solar photovoltaics (PV) to complement wind, farmers were asked if their roofs could be used. They said they liked the idea, but wanted to own the roof arrays themselves.. They now have three hundred solar PV systems that have been installed on the rooftops. In addition, around 150 solar collectors are now used for water heating.
The combination of PVs with wind has its benefits. PVs provide power during times of strong sunshine, and since these times coincide with those of low wind power, the wind and solar complement each other.
The local farmers also installed small biogas plants, which converted agricultural waste to methane, which could be burned to provide heat for homes in the town, as well as more electrical power.
The whole system was built gradually. This meant that after the first turbines were installed, people could test for themselves the truth of the ideas that wind turbines are ugly, loud, or destructive to wildlife. Having had that experience firsthand, they decided to add more turbines to the wind farm, and now have a total of five. They now are not only 100% renewable, but produce about 14 million kWh of energy annually — about 3 million more than needed.
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