Freiburg Germany: Renewable Energy, Rural Development, and Energy CooperativesJune 5, 2023
Our morning began bright and early at 8:30 AM when a classmate, Kyle Daniels, gave us a briefing on what we should expect from the day: excursions full of renewable energies, rural development, and energy cooperatives.
After breakfast, we hopped on the bus to head to Roser Farm, an organic farm known for its bioproduction of cheese. We took a tour of the different buildings and machinery, getting the chance to see where the cows live (in open stalls), how the farm dries its hay, and the process of cooling the milk (which produces enough heat and energy for the three generations of families living on the farm!) We also visited a biogas plant that produces over 1 million KWh of electricity each year, delivering heat to 14 apartments and the nearby elementary school.
Next up, we visited (and went inside!) two co-owned wind turbines. Financed by shareholders and bank credits, our leader from Innovation Academy, Erhard Schulz, even had a share. The first turbine had 142 owners and a capacity of 1,800 KW. The second turbine had 109 owners and produced enough electricity to power 2,000 households! While up on the mountaintop, we noticed many hikers, and Erhard explained that this location has become a tourist destination. We started to consider why Germans could appreciate this site, but back home, people would complain about a wind turbine in the North Carolina mountains.
It was then time for lunch at an old mill in the Black Forest. The meal consisted of 4 different types of meat, a variety of cheese, bread, jam, and butter, all produced at that mill! As a vegetarian who doesn’t eat cheese, I didn’t partake in trying some foods, but from what I heard, it was fantastic! The dining area was very quaint, and the host constantly checked in on us and brought us refills- this was one of my favorite parts of the entire day.
Next, the bus driver drove us to a hydropower plant with fish steps constructed to reduce obstacles to fish migration. The construction of the fish steps was 1 million euros alone, and the generator produced enough waste heat to heat a small house.
The day slowly started to come to an end, but Erhard had a few more stops for us in mind. He told us about the controversies surrounding nuclear power, specifically the Whyl nuclear power plant. As someone involved in the protests of the power plant’s construction, Erhard took us to some areas that had carved stones representing the history and the start of Germany’s environmental stewardship; he even told us that he was arrested as part of the protests and owed money. Erhard joked around with us a lot, but the moral of his story was that the phase-out of nuclear energy in Germany led to the expansion of solar power throughout the country. With that in mind, we drove through a solar community, where all the houses had rooftop solar.
After nearly a 9-hour day, we arrived back at our hotel, where we said our goodbyes to Erhard. The day was tiring, and as much as we all wanted to get dinner and go to bed, it was important to recap lessons from the day:
Just 50 years ago, the government thought that the people showing up to oppose nuclear power were communists. However, the people who showed up then are the rural farmers we consider conservative today. They are the ones with huge lagoons full of biowaste ready to be turned into energy; rural farmers are the catalysts for renewable energy expansion.
Professor Lovelady described this day as “life-changing,” and I couldn’t agree more. I may not have known what a day in the German countryside would be like, but I definitely was not disappointed. Cheers to another day of studying abroad! It just keeps getting better.
About the Author
Stephanie Deihl, Environmental Studies Sustainability and AD/PR majors, Class of 2025, Connect on LinkedIn