Touring Germany’s energy village | Guest Viewpoint

Kellen Lynch
Posted 6/24/22

In February, my fiancé and I took off from Port Townsend with our bicycles and a plan to tour nine countries across Europe. 

For months leading up to our trip, we compiled a wish list …

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Touring Germany’s energy village | Guest Viewpoint

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In February, my fiancé and I took off from Port Townsend with our bicycles and a plan to tour nine countries across Europe. 

For months leading up to our trip, we compiled a wish list of inspiring places to visit as the world stumbles out of this pandemic. 

Our dream that we are now two months into has been to travel for seven months and seek out lessons to bring home regarding our passions and respective professions within the areas of renewable energy, community housing, and regenerative agriculture. 

We have just departed from one of the key places that we hoped to visit: the village of Wildpoldsried, Germany. I sought out this humble Bavarian village because of its innovative and risk-taking leadership that has created an internationally known localized energy system. I aim to share what I encountered there, because what we found in Wildpoldsried was as startling as it was inspiring. 

I came to know Wildpoldsried in 2015 when a local group in Port Townsend rallied together to fly Wildpoldsried’s deputy mayor, Günter Mögele, to Jefferson County for a tour of our area with the hope of learning how to apply their successes on our peninsula. Because I had the opportunity to join Günter in his meetings and presentations, my mind was opened to the reality that what Wildpoldsried has already accomplished since 2000, our local leaders could not yet imagine. 

Hearing Günter’s explanation of how higher electricity costs motivated the people of Wildpoldsried to take advantage of Germany’s new energy policy, it dawned on me that our lack of a cohesive national energy policy for renewables and our reliance upon hydroelectric plants and their currently cheap electricity has lured us into complacency. Indeed, depending on this aging and distant infrastructure that is dependent on regular snow and rainfall for most of our power generation may not be the best bet in a changing climate. 

Incredibly, Wildpoldsried has built a three-tiered system of local energy generation that annually produces 800 percent of the total village energy consumption. This doesn’t mean that individuals don’t still buy electricity when they aren’t producing enough, but the amount the village collectively uses is produced locally eight times over when annualized. 

The first step to this innovation is residential solar power. Nearly every other home is adorned with solar panels which power the individual’s needs first and is then dispersed into the grid. 

The second step is wind power, which comes in the form of a local wind farm launched by village investors who sell to the open market. 

The third step to their local generation is found in their local dairies which produce biogas directly from their cow’s manure, which is used to generate electricity or is fed into their district heating system. 

Critically, the village is completely tied to the broader grid and is served by their local utility, which not only acts as their reliable baseload, but it also receives all excess generation and distributes this valuable renewable energy across the nation. 

Physically stepping into a living vision of our clean energy future disarmed me despite anticipating this visit for years. The idea that capable and well-resourced economies, such as ours, could have already made such a profound energy transition already seems far-fetched. This village of 2,500 has pulled off what people around the globe are clamoring for, and they did it not only because of the climate, they did it because it just makes great financial sense. Their no-nonsense approach and smart risk taking has led to their massive investment in clean, local energy and is supported heavily by strong government policies, both local and federal. 

Many eyes are turning to this village’s progress towards energy independence as Russia uses its grip on fossil fuel energy as a continental cudgel in Europe and elsewhere. Those participating in Wildpoldsried’s local energy generation have insulated themselves to some degree from the recent and rapid rise in electricity and fossil fuel prices. Their energy resilience has brought in international delegations for years from countries as diverse as Japan, Iraq, Thailand, Turkey, Ethiopia, and the United States. 

Residents of Jefferson County before me have traveled to this remarkable place and are similarly inspired to learn from and follow this village’s example. 

Wildpoldsried has accomplished this energy transition by taking their future seriously, by empowering local leaders to act on a vision, and by taking advantage of the opportunities afforded to it by their government. These conditions are not a given in most places in our world. But for those of us that can see the impending change demanded by the climate crisis, it is critical that we see this incorporation of local energy generation as not only possible, but an advantageous opportunity. 

It’s worth saying that I understand we are not Wildpoldsried, and that our energy and political situation is different. 

But what happens now that we know such a thing is already possible? Do we aspire for a more energy-resilient community? 

I would like to think that I walked away from this visit with more answers than questions, but I’d be fooling myself. I am grateful for the remarkable and imperfect energy system that we do have, and in the same moment, if I squint, I can see a more resilient future ahead for us, too. 

For a more thorough description of how Wildpoldsried and Germany’s energy system and incentives work, please visit my website at www.newstorystudio.org/writing. 

(Raised in Port Townsend, Kellen Lynch is focused on energy, housing, and food projects to reignite a sense of belonging in our shared home, and in a previous life sold you bread and pastries at the market.)

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