Feldheim is a small town(population 150) located in the rural eastern corner of Germany, just 40 miles south of Berlin. In the time of a divided Germany Feldheim was simply a small communist collective farm; Today it is one of the best examples of renewable self-sufficiency in the world.
It all started in 1995. The town’s farmers were worried about plummeting prices for their produce, and rising prices for their energy, so began to look for sources of extra income. They soon discovered that they could rent out their land to energy companies, who wanted to install wind turbines in the area. A local renewable energy company, Energiquelle, invested in the land and drew up plans for a wind farm. Before long, the landscape was dotted with over forty turbines, generating renewable energy for the grid, and extra income for the farmer’s families.
This prospect of renewable energy was just too good, so in 2008 the same energy company bought a plot of land just five miles outside of town and built a 284-panel solar farm. That same year the town of Feldheim and Energiquelle established a joint venture, Feldheim Energy & Co. The new company constructed a bio gas factory that converts pig manure and unused corn waste into heat, making us of the community’s 700 some pigs and 1,700 acres of farmland. With the combined power of the wind turbines, solar panels, and bio gas factory, Feldheim was producing all it’s own energy with renewable sources by 2009. That’s right, one hundred percent of it! The only part of the system that the town did not control was the grid itself, supplied by the large utility company E.on, but that obstacle was overcome soon enough. Each of the town’s 150 residents personally contributed 3,000 euros(around 4,000 dollars) to build their very own power grid. With the help of Energiquelle, the European Union and government subsidies, the smart-grid was completed in 2010, making Feldheim completely energy independent, and the only town in Germany with it’s own mini-grid.
Today the residents of Feldheim can reap the benefits of all their hard work. The smart-grid allows all the energy produced by the wind, solar and bio gas farms to be fed straight to the consumers homes, the price of which is decided at regular community meetings. Locals now pay 31 percent less for electricity, and 10 percent less for heating than what they did before. The town consumes less than 1 percent of the energy produced by the solar panels and wind turbines, and is able to sell the rest back to the market. The bio gas plant alone supplies the whole community with heating, saving an average of 160,000 liters of heating oil annually. As an added bonus, it also produces over three million gallons of high-quality fertilizer each year, which is put to use by the agricultural cooperative. With the working bio gas plant and now growing visitors to the small town, they have virtually erased their unemployment rate, which is roughly 30 percent in the other villages of Brandenburg state.
Feldheim is a prime example of what we can attain with a future of renewable energy. If a tiny town in the corner of windswept Germany can do something so incredible, why can’t we all?