Upper Austria shows way to greener future (With images)

August 3rd, 2008 - 1:14 pm ICT by IANS  

By Joydeep Gupta
Salzburg, Aug 3 (IANS) The European Union has a 20-20-20 target to be achieved by 2020: cutting greenhouse gas emissions 20 percent, reducing energy consumption 20 percent by increasing efficiency and increasing the share of renewable energies to 20 percent. How is this to be achieved? The state of Upper Austria has the answer. It’s a combination of encouraging renewable energy use village by village and home by home, plus showing builders how more energy efficient buildings could increase their profits - all backed by a slew of laws and directives, explained Christiane Egger, deputy manager of the Upper Austrian Renewable Energy Agency.

Addressing delegates from around the world at a Salzburg Global Seminar session on Combating Climate Change at Local and Regional Levels: Sustainable Strategies, Renewable Energy, Egger said renewable sources already provided 30.9 percent of gross energy consumption in Upper Austria - 14.6 percent from hydro power and 12.6 percent from biomass forming the bulk.

IANS was the only media outlet from Asia invited to the seminar.

Upper Austria is a region of rolling farmlands and forests, all in private hands. The farmers who own the forests now do their cyclical logging and sell the wood to biomass heaters and electricity generators rather than to paper mills, and make more money in the process.

It is not a model that can be replicated in developing countries, especially those in the tropics, where the government owns almost all the forests and deforestation is the big problem. But where it works, it works very well.

Egger took the delegates to the village of Neukirchen to show how. The farmers have formed a cooperative, to which individuals who own forests sell their woodchips. The cooperative has installed a heater that burns these woodchips and provides heating to the entire village, an essential requirement in an area that is under snow for almost half the year.

Heinrich Schausberger runs his own biogas plant at the other end of the village. Nothing new about that, except that the 250 kw of power the plant generates is sold back to the electricity grid, at a guaranteed rate of 14.9 cents per kw for the first 13 years of the deal.

It is this feed-in tariff that has given the real boost to decentralised renewable energy generation in many parts of Europe. Schausberger buys 6,600 cubic metres of raw material a day - corn stalks, switchgrass, wintergrass and manure. He maintains a large biogas plant that can store 250 cubic metres of gas at a time before they are used to run a combined heat and power (CHP) engine. Not surprisingly, he makes a tidy profit.

Decentralised generation and the use and sale of renewable energy form one part of the Upper Austria success story. The other is energy efficiency, in which building insulation plays a vital role.

Egger’s organisation has focussed strategies for this. For single-family homes, it provides advice and financial support. For multi-family homes, it holds demonstrations and financial support again. For private office buildings, it provides specific ideas too. For public buildings, it has made laws and it holds competitions among architects to design the most energy-efficient of them all.

“By changing how people think and how they behave, we can change how they invest in sustainable buildings,” Egger says. The result is that 95 percent of all new homes and 80 percent of all homes in the region are now low-energy consumers.

The new buildings do more, by generating their own solar power and selling whatever they do not need.

Egger listed the benefits for the state:

* Lower energy imports are saving two billion euros a year.

* The boost to renewable energy generation is creating 25,000 new jobs in Austria.

* It has led to an additional investment of over 100 million euros in the state of Upper Austria.

* Export opportunities in the area of renewable energy have risen more than 50 percent.

* There are 110 research and development projects in the area going on right now, and more than 500 teachers and students in this new field.

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