Kai Edlefsen – Pellworm Community Wind Farm

translated by Rebecca Coombs

Kai Edlefsen
Kai Edlefsen

My name is Kai Edlefsen. I come from Pellworm Island and am a local farmer. I am employed by the church as a parish clerk and am also involved in the management of wind farms on the island. Renewable energy, or the use of wind power, has been around here since ancient times. This very island has been involved in the use of modern wind power, i.e. using wind power to produce electricity, since the 1970s. There were testing grounds set up here on the island, and this just continued to be expanded. The wind farm here on the island was constructed in 1997 from a “Bürgergesellschaft” (community partnership) comprised of 42 partners. Starting around 2003, there was also a lot of PV installed here. This was primarily pursued through private means. Since 2005, the island operates a biogas plant in the form of an operating company. This company is primarily composed of Pellwormers (local islanders), both non-farmers and farmers.
On the island, we work very closely with renewable energy. We already started focusing on energy concepts a number of years ago in the Association of “Ecological Economies.” We put out our last Energy Concept in 2009/2010, where we took an inventory analysis and presented our visions for the future, all in the form of a so-called master plan. Through the Energy Working Group we get on one hand quite a lot of acceptance, and on the other hand a very comprehensive look at things. So, what does it mean, say, to build a biogas plant? What is the scope? What impact does this have on people? Or, where is there still a need in, for example, energy conservation? This has led us to realize that there is still a need for energy renovations due our large stock of old buildings.

Ruins of the tower from an old church, landmark and navigation aid

Who or what was the driving force behind such an early start in installing solar and wind systems and that put the Island so far ahead in the development of renewable energies?

The driving force is primarily the local people here. Political leaders were also responsible in the 1970s in constructing the testing grounds. But the driving force has ultimately been the individual actors here on the island who have pushed things forward. People here have simply recognized that it is better to work with renewable energy, to plan it, develop it, and to rely on it. It hasn’t been an effort from individuals working on their own, but rather many private individuals together. At first, there were a few interested individuals who separately all wanted to have wind turbines set up, but who then realized: we actually all have the same interests. Even the planning authorities, administrators, and building administrators said, “If you all want the same thing, just team up together.” And that of course simplified certain procedures. This way it was also easier to create an overall plan for the island, when you don’t have a wind farm spread out across the island, but rather planned for certain areas. And of course, you can’t forget — you have to show a lot of courage and take risks. This is much easier to bear as a community than if one single person takes it upon him/herself.

Not all were convinced of renewable energy from the beginning. How did you convince your fellow citizens?

Yes, that’s right. We went through a process of intense and emotional discussions. This was especially the case in the construction of the wind farm in the 1990s. Many people were extremely skeptical if this would even happen, what to expect of it, if the technology would even, whether it could withstand the load of the harsh climate here. People here are very practical and pragmatic. They wonder about the sustainability of it. Will it last? As an example, we are now sitting in a church that is already more than 900 years old, and that’s basically the standard here on the island to judge how long developments will last. Another aspect was the impact on the landscape. It was just strange to all of a sudden see wind turbines next to a lighthouse or a church. This meant, of course, that we went into explicit and detailed examination on the siting — the impact on nature, the environment, bird life — what are the impacts there? This was of course a piece of the planning process that was discussed very intensively. Eventually solutions were reached that, from my perspective, were very agreeable to all sides, and meanwhile we can see that we have maintained a very high acceptance. People have recognized that the technology installed worked, that the environmental adapted to it, and that above all we achieved a so-called ‘value creation’ here locally that has had a very valuable and meaningful contribution. We have gained acceptance. People were afraid that wind turbines would have a negative impact on tourism, and again here I would say that the contrary has been the case. Many guests ask about the technology, are interested in it and don’t feel impacted by this technology. But this is also because we planned very carefully.

Bürgerwindpark im Nordosten der Insel Pellworm
Community wind farm in the northeast of the island Pellworm

What can other cities or regions learn from Pellworm in relation to acceptance?

Acceptance begins with trusting each other and building trust. This also means that some projects hold back and give it time. You can’t pull projects like this through overnight. You have to be very comprehensively informed; you have to get the community involved in the projects. This is achieved in the form of these “Bürgergesellschaften” (community partnerships), which means contribution to value creation. This is an outstanding example, one that exists here in Northern Germany on the West Coast in the form of community wind farms. Of course it is also important to, for those who are not involved in the community partnerships, to keep them comprehensively informed. This is ensured by procedures for participation in the planning process. These ensure that community members are comprehensively informed and of course that they have the right to object, if there are things where they disagree. It is important that we talk to each other and that community participation is possible. This is actually the core element. Here on a small island in the North Sea we are very heavily reliant on each other to continue to develop our island life together. You can’t just come through with your own personal interests. This component is critically examined here on the island every day, making sure we are working with each other.

How much electricity and heat is produced and consumed here on Pellworm?

So electricity from wind turbines, that’s about 14 million kilowatt hours produced. The wind farm consists of eight turbines, each with a 600 kW rated capacity. This corresponds to a total rated capacity of 4800 kW. These wind turbines can each produce 1.6 million kilowatt hours on average in a year. This allows 400 households to be provided for, assuming that a household consumes 4,000 kWh per year. So that’s a whole, whole lot. Here on the island, we of course can’t use all of this amount, when we have on average 600 to 700 households. Next to the wind farm we also have individual turbines. The wind turbines here generate profits for up to 3000 full-load hours. There are over 8000 hours in a year. So this is a very high, very good value, and that’s why using wind power here is particularly interesting for us.

Sicherungen im Hybridkraftwerk
Fuses in the hybrid power plant

Would energy produced here be sufficient for the residents of Pellworm?

Yes, that is enough by far. This is exactly where we have used out Energy Concept to illuminate this topic. For example right next to the wind turbines we have the biogas plant with a rated capacity of 500 kW. There, far as electricity, over 4 million kilowatt hours are produced. These are in addition to the power output from wind power, and then there is also the heat output from biomass that supplies units such as the swimming pool. The supply for the island is very secure. We often find ourselves in a situation where we have too much power, and this power is then passed over the submarine cable to the mainland.

So you need the grid mainly to export electricity. Or is it the goal is to completely disconnect from the grid?

A total independence is not possible due to technical circumstances. Of course you want to self-sufficient in the broadest sense, but you also of course want to be an energy-plus-region. We want the good Pellwormer power to also be passed to the mainland because this is simply a very valuable value creation for us.

Smart Meter
Smart meters

Now since last year you have had the “intelligent grid” (smart grid). What has been done so far to bring together peak production and peak loads?

Yes, the so-called “smart grid”, the intelligent grid, is a project that was launched by the Smart Region Pellworm. It is a scientific project on energy storage and intelligent observation with so-called “smart meters”. These are ammeters or electricity meters that have been installed here in private households. From these you can see exactly how usages are, as well as how the so-called power supply takes place.
This is a vision for the future that we will be able to incorporate even more renewable energy into grid with the help of this smart grid. For us it is still a vision, but one that has a very high acceptance on the island. Many households are participating in the Smart Grid, and we are overall very positive about it.

What possibilities for expansion are there, or is further expansion not really wanted?

Doch Ausbau ist erwünscht. Da die Windkraftanlagen doch einer Erneuerung unterliegen müssen streben wir an, die Windkraftanlagen zu erneuern durch neuere, größere und technisch netzangepasstere Anlagen. Also insofern streben wir einen Ausbau der Windkraft an, der natürlich verträglich gestaltet werden muss.


What personally brought you to wind power? What is your motivation to get involved in wind power today?

What has always impressed me about wind power a use of forces, forces of nature, right here locally. And what is especially important to me is that this value created also takes place locally and not somewhere else far away. For it to be possible to survive from the habitat where you live. This has been a strong motivation for me. Now what really moves me to promote renewable energy is also, of course, climate change. We have to pay attention to what is happening in the world, how the environment is changing, and how we can live with this here in this very contained region. For me there is only one answer and that, and that is the use of renewable energy. We handle the environment responsibly, that’s one thing. And another is the value created for people here locally. This is a certain justice, in the broadest sense, that takes place with community involvement in renewable energy — that the value created and the returns doesn’t stay with just a few, but rather comes to the benefit of all. And here is where we are involved in projects where this is executed justly. This is my personal motivation. That is my commitment. It is not easy to fight for, but it’s worth it.

What is special here on the island? Has island life advanced the development towards renewable energy?

Yes, what is special about an island, first of all, of course is living with nature, that one has to cope with the forces of nature and respect them. Wind is a force of nature here that is almost constantly blowing, and this is of course why it was such a wonderful opportunity and possibility to move forward with it. Another aspect of this is the socio-economic effect. Currently we are considered a low-income region. We can achieve a very value contribution to income for families that live and work here on the island. Renewable energy brings an addition income effect and in the process deals responsibly with the environment.

Community wind farm

What can we learn from Pellworm?

It is important, of course, to develop your own path in a community, and I emphasize community in particular. This will not happen without friction. But you have to build a community. This is especially important to me. And if you can first tackle common things, then you have won a lot in a community. Then you can go ahead and dispute the matter, but things will be expressed and dealt with fairly amongst each other; and if everyone can benefit from this, even better. Of course, you always have winners and losers. Projects will also always have some who don’t win as much. This is just how it is, also with renewable energy. Someone who is more reliant on conventional energy can not win very much from this. But many realize that you can achieve so much, and this has always been a motivation for us that we continue to point this out; this is also why we are very happy to receive visitors and journalists to answer questions about why we do what we do here. We would like to spread this fundamental idea further, because if this also comes to be in other regions it will be much easier.

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