Generate your own power, use it and sell it too (With Image)July 29th, 2008 - 12:46 pm ICT by IANS
By Joydeep Gupta
Salzburg, July 29 (IANS) The Indian government has placed solar energy development at the centre of its strategy for energy security and combating climate change. There is a town in Germany where most new buildings have solar power roofs that not only cater to all the energy requirements of homes, but also allow residents to sell power to the grid. With more than half the world’s population living in cities now, and the figure estimated to go up to 70-80 percent by 2025, the focus of planners dealing with climate change is shifting to making cities self-sustainable in renewable energy production.
Freiburg is a city in Germany that has perhaps moved more in this direction than any other. Its chief architect, Wulf Heinrich Daseking, explained exactly how this was being done at a recent session of the Salzburg Global Seminar on Combating Climate Change at Local and Regional Levels: Sustainable Strategies, Renewable Energy.
Planners and academics from around the world attended the session. IANS was the only media organisation from Asia to be invited.
A city of around 200,000 people near Frankfurt, Freiburg started with a basic disadvantage - it had no industry, so it was not a rich city. “That is an advantage in some ways,” said Daseking. “When you don’t have much money, you have to find the best way to use what you have.”
The greening of Freiburg started with local opposition to a proposed nuclear power nearby. The locals won, “but then the question was: How do we keep the lights from going out?” Daseking said.
“Six to eight people got together and said, ‘We have the city with the most sunshine hours in Germany, let us try to use that’. From that small start, we now have entire neighbourhoods with solar panels as their roofs.”
Private entrepreneurs put in the roofs and take care of maintenance for the first three years as part of the contract. By that time, residents have already recovered the extra cost of putting in the solar power roofs because they do not have to pay any electricity bills.
What is more, the solar panels generate more electricity than the household can consume, so the residents sell it to the grid and have a perpetual source of income from their homes.
Apart from its solar-powered houses, Freiburg has a public transport system that makes it quite unnecessary to own a car. Be it trams, buses, local trains, intercity trains, cable cars, aircraft, private cars, or bicycles - all are interchangeable at one hub, the railway station.
“The trick is to integrate all the transport systems at one point,” Daseking said. “The commuter obviously finds it most convenient. And the city also saves money.”
A single ticket that costs 53 euros a month enables the commuter to use all these forms of transport as often as he or she wishes. On weekends, families can travel without paying anything extra. With dedicated lanes, travelling by tram or bus is faster than driving - and far more comfortable.
There are two dedicated bus lanes and tramlines, one going from the eastern end of the city to the western end, and the other from north to south. The city planners have placed as many offices and residential neighbourhoods close to these lanes as they can.
The result, there are parts of Freiburg where the number of cars per 1,000 residents has come down from 550 to 85, even as the per capita income is going up.
Of course, this has the major additional advantage of saving energy and thus reducing greenhouse gas emissions that are warming the Earth’s atmosphere and leading to climate change.
“We must build up the density of population in a city, not reduce it,” Daseking said. “Everyone lives together, as they did for so many centuries. That also reduces the overall energy used for transportation.”
That was the way to go, in more senses than one, said one delegate at the end of Daseking’s presentation.
(Joydeep Gupta can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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