Yesterday, I visited a biomass energy plant and a privately owned wind turbine in the small town of Freiamt, Germany. While neither generator produces electricity on a very large scale, they make great strides towards making the small town energy independent. Being a town made up of mostly old farmhouses, I was very surprised to see that nearly all of the large roofs in sight were coated in solar panels as well. When I asked about this trend I was told that it is one that is spreading throughout the Black Forest farmhouses quickly and that they often produce more than enough energy for their properties. While I believe this is partially due to the sustainable attitude of Southwestern Germany, I learned that investing in renewable energy technologies like small scale wind, solar, and biomass projects is almost always guaranteed to make a profit.
The biomass plant was owned and operated by a single family that slowly moved away from farming to begin work in the energy market. Their plant provides heating and hot water in the winter for surrounding homes and apartment complexes and in the summer they mainly produce electricity. In an especially cold winter, they also have a backup wood pellet heating system to keep the surrounding buildings heated. The one aspect of this system that I found most interesting is the fact that after purchasing and constructing the biomass generators and setting up the necessary infrastructure to transport the heat and electricity, there are basically no more costs other than occasional maintenance and water. This is due to the system they have in place with the surrounding farmers. In return for supplying the biomass generator with hay, corns, and manure from their own farms, the family owning and operating the generator supplies the these farmers with some of the highest quality fertilizer for their fields, the main byproduct of the generator. This system keeps the cost of operating the generator low and the output high.
Following our trip to the farm owned biomass generator, we moved uphill to a large wind turbine. Built in 2001, the wind turbine Helga cost 2 million euros to construct. Owned by around 200 residents of the nearby villages, Helga is expected to return all investment by 2021, only 20 years after construction. This timespan is typical form most wind turbines on dry land. I was also interested to hear the exact numerical value for building wind turbines higher up on hills and with maximum height off the ground. Statistically, for every extra meter of height a wind turbine grows, one percent more electricity is produced. While this may not seem like a huge percentage at first, one extra meter is no large feat for turbines being built today. They continue to be built taller and taller. Every day I continue to be impressed by the number of small-scale privately owned energy projects in southwestern Germany. By 2050, Baden-Wurttemberg is expected to produce 86% of all power using a mixture of hydropower, biomass, solar, wind, and geothermal.