On the road again


I’m on the road again, just not with a twike. For the long distances I will use the train and for everything else I’ll keep riding my bicycle, but at least I’m on the road again. To catch up and to avoid getting another infection in my knee joint I’ll take the train as my kind of „bridge technology“.

As I leave Baden-Württemberg heading for Lusatia it is time to summarise what I learned about the energy transition so far:
Regarding the issue of climate change and the energy transition I often thought, what can one individual person really do? Of course there are tons of advice how to use less energy. The thought of only contributing a tiny drop in the ocean and especially the personal inertia, that we have to overcome to get started, and also the financial investment necessary to get started keep many people including myself from finally taking action.

However the rather successful development of renewable energy was mainly brought forwand by individual people. Ursula Sladek made clear in her speech at the “Save the energy transition” rally in Freiburg, that by now about 25% of the energy production in Germany come from renewable sources and half of it comes from power plants that citizens have built themselves or financed together als cooperatives.

Freiamt is a good example. The people in this town of 4300 inhabitants have built six wind turbines, 300 solar power systems on rooftops, and they are using biogas, hydro power, solar heat and geothermal energy from power plants that they build themselves mainly with their own money. Following a rotor blade for Freiamt’s new wind turbine has also been the most impressive experience of my journey so far.

The people decided for themselves and now they profit from producing energy themselves. That seems to be the key to success. There are very few wind energy critics in Freiamt, the mayority of citizens is proud of what they and their fellow citizens have acchieved. When investors showed up in the 1990s to rent locations for wind turbines, the people decided „We can do this ourselves“ and put their plans into practice.
Interviews with Hannelore Reibold-Mench (Mayor of Freiamt), Ernst Leimer (Association for the promotion of wind energy in Freiamt) and Inge Reinbold (Reinbold bio-energy)

„Never believe that a small group of committed people thinking new ways could not change the world. It has always been like that.“ Johannes Büttner told me this quote (more photos). In Freiburg-Ebnet he modified the house he rents to run on solar heat and wood-fired heating with lots of manual labour and mainly used materials. He changed the decorative garden into kitchen garden to produce food for his family and he drives and also repairs twikes.

Johannes Büttner
Johannes Büttner

Freiburg has many showcase projects, that are internationally known and therefore get overrun by journalists and tourists from all over the world. So I was very happy that some scientists of the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energysystems took the time to tell me about their research on solar cells and electricity storage technologies.
Interviews with Alma Spribille and with Stephan Lux).
Georg Löser and Andreas Hoffmann have shown me, how they made their homes independent from fossil fuels and the big energy companies. Reinhard Schwörer protested against the nuclear power plant in his hometown Wyhl when he was a teenager and has now been installing solar systems since the 1990s. I got to watch his employees install asolar system on a house in Rust.

We will get nowhere without the action of individual people. That’s also what Michael Sladek,said, when I interviewed him in Schönau concerning the project of BürgerEnergie Berlin that he supports with his knowledge. Committed people drive the energy transition forward in many ways. These committed people and their stories are what brings the enerty transition to life.
Governments can’t decide the energy transition top-down and large companies antagonise it. It’s the citizens who decide for themselves how they want to live in the future, and who say „We will do that“ despite the framework conditions getting worse.

Last but not least: Thank you very to Diana Sträuber, who did not only organise the rally for the energy transition in Freiburg, the conference for energy autonomy in towns and the „whisper rally“/a>, but also let me stay at her place quite a bit longer than initially planned.

The new Wind Turbine in Freiamt is growing …

Transport eines Rotorblatts
Transportation of a rotor blade from Elzach to the construction site of the new wind turbine in Freiamt/Gutach

… and my confidence for this project is also increasing again.

Where the boundaries of Freiamt and Gutach meet Freiamt’s wind turbine number 6 is being built (power 3 Megawatt). Already in 2012 the town of Freiamt fed 10 millions of kilowatt hours more of power from renewable sources into the power grid than its citizens and companies used. It was impressive to watch as the almost 50 metres long and 16 tons heavy rotor blade was transported up the hill from Elzach past villages and forests to the construction site.
Since the foundation of the association for the promotion of wind energy in Freiamt in 1997 there has been a lot of progress. Freiamt has just about reached its development goal. Besides the soon six wind turbines and more than 300 solar power systems the people from Freiamt also use solar heat, biogas, geothermal energy and hydropower. The essential factor for success besides the suitable geographic location and the many hours of sunshine are first of all the people of Freiamt, who promoted and financed the development.

Find out more about Freiamt and its people in the interviews with
Hannelore Reinbold-Mench (Mayor of Freiamt)
Ernst Leimer (Association for the promotion of wind energy in Freiamt)
Inge Reinbold (Reinbold bio-energy)

The people in Freiamt used their chance at the right point in time. With the new version of the Renewable Energy Law it will become more difficult to copy this good example in other towns.
First of all people are needed with a hands-on mentality, like the people from Freiamt who just said: „We can do this ourselves!“ and who continue after each setback. For the place where the new wind turbine is being built now the plans had already been declined by the relevant authorities in 2004. Only after the change in government in Stuttgart the location recieved the approval of the authorities and with it a new chance.
I am also hoping for a new chance now. After a mixed start of my project with a knee injury and different delays I’m now hoping to get a twike. These amazing small electric vehicles have always fascinated me, not just since I got to ride in a twike with Johannes Büttner during the „whisper rally“ (a kind of motorcade with electric vehicles as a rally for renewable energy in transportation) on April 12th in Freiburg. So wish my luck that I will get the chance to borrow a twike to continue my journey. Otherwise I will take my bicycle on the train for the longer distances to give my knee a break. A twike would be a great chance to try out electric mobility myself because the energy transition does not only concern people who like cycling, it concerns everybody.

Driving a twike at the „whisper rally“ in Freiburg