FES Students Studying Energy Efficiency in Germany

Hello from Freiburg, Germany. The city sits at the foot of the black forest in what feels like a sleepy corner of one of Europe’s most affluent and industrious nations. Though its beauty and charm make for a generally attractive tourist destination, Freiburg is a center for energy research and proved to be the ideal place for your fellow FESers to begin our exploration of Germany’s renewable energy and energy efficiency landscape.

With the FES a small group of M.E.M. students left New Haven four days ago to find out what makes the German energy system unique, special, and, ultimately, what has driven its leadership in renewables and energy efficiency deployment. For us, this trip and the questions we are seeking to answer, are a culmination of two years of energy focus in the M.E.M. track (specifically, the energy efficiency economics of real time data in the power system). Our goals for the trip are twofold: (1) to conduct a comparative analysis of German and U.S. energy systems and (2) to build connections with FES energy students and leading European energy institutions. Which brings us to Germany.

As a percentage of its electricity production, Germany has nearly ten times more renewable energy on its grid than does the U.S. The country’s energy efficiency financing mechanisms are interesting – a German development bank guarantees at least 1.5 billion Euros per year in energy efficiency financing. These statistics are at the heart of our interest in Germany.

Over the course of the next two weeks, we will be meeting with a number of companies, policymakers, academics, and scientists to learn, share, and build connections. Which brings us to Freiburg.

A group of students from Uni Freiburg’s Master’s in Renewable Energy Management program were our hosts for a day of energy meetings. First stop was the Oeko Institut where we met with Veit Burger, a senior researcher. We discussed German energy efficiency financing and renewable energy growth over the last thirty years before touring the Vauban neighborhood, a famous zero-net energy community.

The neighborhood is a combination of energy efficient building design and distributed energy integration. What relatively little electricity the houses use in a year comes from solar electricity with grid backup. Heating comes from a district biomass combined-heat-and-power (CHP) facility.

After lunch with our fellow students, we toured the Fraunhofer ISE, a German national energy lab that focuses on solar energy research and development. Most interesting to our studies in home energy efficiency issues was the home simulation room, complete with a micro-CHP unit for heating, a water storage tank, various solar inverters, smart meters, and an electric vehicle hooked up from the parking lot – all feeding into a computer program that researchers can manipulate to test various scenarios and end-use combinations.

Our next stop will be in Dusseldorf, where we will meet with representatives from E.On, a leading German energy company.