A German village keeps the lights on with windmills and pig manure

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Marco Werman: Now, here’s a story about a different sort of alternative farming -- think wind farms and solar farms. I’m talking about the tiny German village of Feldheim. Feldheim and its 150 residents have sworn off fossil fuels and nuclear power and, check this out, switched to 100% local alternative energy. Werner Frohwitter is with Energiequelle, a green power company that’s involved with the Feldheim project. Can you just break it down for us -- what is Feldheim doing for alternative energy?


Werner Frohwitter: Feldheim is a little place south of Berlin and is producing all the energy it needs -- heat energy and electric power; Feldheim is completely independent from the old energy monopolies. We have a wind farm not very far away from the village, which is producing about 140 million kilowatt-hours per year. A major part of that electricity is fed into the national grid, but a minor part of about 1 million kilowatt-hours is led directly into the village and consumed there.


Werman: So, with winter coming, how will families heat their homes?


Frohwitter: Beside the wind farm, we have a biogas station, which produces heat power and electricity, and we’ve got about 40 homes there, some 40 families with a total of 130 inhabitants. They use pig manure and corn to produce heat for their homes.


Werman: So, pig manure, cattle manure, shredded corn -- what does that do, create methane?


Frohwitter: Yes, we have a pig farm and cattle farm there, and we use the pig and cattle manure together with corn, which is produced on the fields of the agricultural cooperative. and we use that stuff to produce biogas, methane. The methane is used as a fuel.


Werman: Does that come out of people’s stoves? If you fire up a gas stove, that’s what you’re cooking with?


Frohwitter: Well, the gas is used as a fuel, it drives an engine, the engine produces primarily electricity, but as a subproduct, produces heat. The heat is converted into hot water and the water is then pumped to the different homes by a district heating system.


Werman: What do people cook with? Natural gas or with electricity created from…?


Frohwitter: No, they cook with electricity.


Werman: This town of Feldheim is now 100% local alternative energy. You’re off the grid, and I would guess that when listeners hear that, they’re going to think “Wow, a whole town of German hippies living the dream.” Is that Feldheim?


Frohwitter: No, no hippies at all. People in the countryside in Germany are rather conservative. Most of all, farmers living there, they are more leftist, they are more green; it just makes sense to them, and most of all, they pay less for their energy, that’s all.


Werman: Did you have to overcome any skeptics in Feldheim, or persuade them?


Frohwitter: Yes, of course. In the beginning, not everybody agreed. But we had some discussions in the village and finally every household but two agreed with the new system, and even the two who were against it are now connected to the system as well.


Werman: Are there any sacrifices, like certain energy-sucking conveniences that people have to to give up in Feldheim? Does everyone have a computer, a flat screen TV? Are you on the net?


Frohwitter: No, there are absolutely no shortages here. The energy supply in Feldheim is as safe as in Hamburg, Berlin, or even New York.


Werman: You could run unit air conditioners in the summertime if you wanted?


Frohwitter: Yeah -- well, air conditioners are not appropriate things in Germany. What we need is a heating system. But of course, we have all the energy we need here and we have a charging station for electric mobiles here, and so we use energy not only for our radiators and for our ovens and showers, but we also use e-cars here. One e-car in Feldheim and we will have another one hopefully next year.


Werman: Feldheim, is it a model for Germany? Can you say “If it can happen in Feldheim, it can happen anywhere in Germany”?


Frohwitter: Well, it’s not a blueprint, you can’t copy it one to one. But it is a model, it is a lighthouse. Of course, Feldheim cannot reproduce anyway. First of all, you have to analyze the resources you have. In Feldheim, we were very lucky because we had about 1,700 acres of land and we had cattle and pigs, and you don’t have all of these resources in other places. But you do have some resources everywhere. So, Feldheim has shown that it is possible using the local resources to produce your own heat, energy and electricity.


Werman: Werner Frohwitter with the German green power company, Energiequelle. He’s been telling us about the village of Feldheim, Germany, which is 100% off the grid. Werner, thank you very much.


Frohwitter: You’re welcome.