Germany struts its renewable stuff

Germany struts its renewable stuff

A guidebook with a difference is selling well in Germany. It details nearly 200 renewable energy sites it thinks will appeal to tourists.

BERLIN, 11 June – Wind turbines and solar panels: do you love them or hate them? Do you think of renewable energy as the way to a greener future, or an awful blight on the present?

Either way, growing numbers of German communities think they have found a silver lining: they’re touting renewables as tourist attractions. A guidebook is now available, listing about 200 green projects around the country which it thinks are, in the travel writer’s time-hallowed phrase, “worth the detour”. The publication, which has already run to a second edition after the first sold out, was supported by  Germany’s Renewable Energies Agency.

Nuclear power stations are not top of every tourist’s must-see list. But the book’s author, Martin Frey, says a nuclear plant in Kalkar, a town on Germany’s border with the Netherlands, is the world’s safest. It pulls in more than half a million visitors annually.

Safe? It should be, because local protests – driven partly by the 1986 Chernobyl accident – meant it never started operation. Now it’s an amusement park offering hotels with all-inclusive holidays, restaurants and merry-go-rounds. Its most popular attraction is a gigantic cooling tower with a climbing wall outside and a carousel inside.

Blast from the past

Another strictly retired “attraction” listed is Ferropolis, the City of Iron. Located on the site of a former brown coal (lignite) opencast mine in the eastern German state of Saxony-Anhalt, it’s a bit of an oddity in Frey’s list – an open-air museum, preoccupied not with emerging technologies but with echoes of one that many hope has had its day.

Huge redundant metal structures, immense excavators and towering cranes, all abandoned, give Ferropolis the air of a post-apocalypse movie. But in a nod to the future the roof of a former workshop is covered with solar panels which help to power the museum’s annual summer music festivals.

Germany is moving rapidly away from the past which Ferropolis evokes in its switch to renewable energy. In the last decade renewable power generation has tripled and now provides a quarter of the country’s electricity and about 380,000 jobs. Wind, hydro, solar and biogas plants are taking over from coal and nuclear power.

The change is evident right at the heart of the nation’s political life. The glass dome of the Reichstag, a tourist magnet which stands resplendent on the Berlin skyline, contains a cone covered with 360 mirrored plates, which reflect sunlight and illumine the plenary hall below. And there’s more: a heat exchanger inside the cone’s ventilation shaft significantly reduces the building’s power consumption.

Steep climb

The Reichstag also boasts an array of solar panels, and half its electricity and most of its heat come from two combined heat and power generators beneath the building, which run on bio-diesel.

If you want to combine some mildly energetic activity with your environmental sightseeing, then head for Lower Saxony where you’ll find the Holtriem wind farm. The largest in Europe when it was built, with a total capacity of 90 MW, it has an observation platform on one of the turbines, 65 m above ground. That offers tourists – if they’re prepared to climb the 297 steps to the top – a stunning view of the North Sea and, in good weather, the East Frisian islands.

Also in Lower Saxony is Juehnde, the first German village to achieve full energy self-sufficiency. Its combined heat and power plant produces twice as much energy as Juehnde needs. The villagers are so keen to share their experience that they built a New Energy Centre to win over visitors.

Frey, a journalist specialising in renewable energy, says he wrote the book because he’d been impressed by a large number of innovative renewable projects and wanted to share them with tourists as well as experts. – Climate News Network

* Germany: Experience Renewable Energies, published by Baedeker, is available in German (and only in print) for €16.99. An English language version may be produced if there is enough demand.

Komila Nabiyeva is a Berlin-based freelance journalist, reporting on climate change, energy and development.

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Europe’s climate forecast: unsettling

Europe's climate forecast: unsettling

EMBARGOED until 0001 GMT on Friday 1 February
Climate change will mean winners and losers in Europe, with the effects likely to be more acute nearer the Mediterranean. But across the continent countries will have to find ways to adapt.

LONDON, 1 February – With the European land surface warming rapidly, rainfall patterns changing and sea levels rising ever faster, southern Europe will suffer most from climate change. But there is an urgent need for countries across the continent to adapt to change, according to the European Environment Agency (EEA).

Temperatures are already 1.3C above the pre-industrial average and are expected to go on rising. This brings gains to some countries in northern Europe, with higher crop yields and lower heating costs, while the south loses.

It is the countries currently struggling most at the moment economically, Greece, Spain and Portugal, that will fare worst under climate change. The EEA says all three countries will lose both harvests and tourists, two of their main economic props, as a result of rising heat and low summer rainfall.

Northern Europe does not escape unscathed. River flooding is already a problem and annual sea level rise, which has already doubled in the last 20 years, and is  currently at 3 mm a year, is expected to rise further. All the countries around the North Sea are now vulnerable to storm surges.

It’s real and it’s now

The latest assessment of how climate change is affecting Europe, published every four years by the Agency and due out in March, is the main evidence being used by the European Union to underpin its policy of adapting to a warming world.

Billions of euros will be spent trying to stave off the worst effects of climate change, which the Agency says are already going to happen whatever we do now to mitigate carbon emissions. Temperatures in Europe are expected to rise as much as 4C this century.

Professor Jacqueline McGlade, EEA Executive Director, has said: ”Climate change is a reality. The extent and speed of it is becoming ever more evident. This means every part of the economy, including households, has to adapt.”

While in some places changes are beneficial, for example an earlier spring and longer growing season, the overall effects are negative. The further south in Europe climatologists investigate, the more they see climate change affecting both human and natural populations.

Changes ahead for tourism

Health effects, tick-borne diseases, mosquitoes and heat waves are serious threats. There is evidence that butterflies and other species adapted to living in cooler climes cannot move north fast enough to survive.

Among the predictions is a change in where Europeans will take their holidays, and when.  As temperatures increase, more people will take their summer breaks in northern and central Europe, leaving it till the winter to travel south. This, along with loss of snow cover in the lower skiing resorts, is likely to have severe economic impacts in some regions.

The number of days people need to turn on their central heating has already gone down by 16 days a year since 1980. The number of days when air conditioning is needed in the summer has risen.

The increased electricity demand in the summer is likely to cause a power crisis in southern Europe. Low river flows will probably face nuclear and thermal power plants with difficulties because both need large quantities of cooling water to operate efficiently.

The lack of summer hydropower, already a problem in some countries, will become far more noticeable because of the demand for electricity for cooling in the heat.

Crop yields will increase dramatically in some northern and eastern European countries and decrease in the south.  The countries worst affected will be Spain, Portugal and Greece, which stand to lose between 15% and 25% of all crops because of a lack of summer rainfall.  France, Italy, Albania, Macedonia, Serbia, Bosnia and Bulgaria will also suffer losses of between 5% and 15%.

The gains are mostly in the north, with the Scandinavian countries and Russia increasing yields – more than 5% and perhaps as much as 35% in parts of Norway and Sweden. The Ukraine, already one of the largest grain producers in Europe, is also going to have improved yields.

Along with the effect on agriculture, less rainfall will cause species loss in the Mediterranean, partly due to more forest fires and heat waves. The health of rivers will be affected by low summer rainfall. – Climate News Network

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