Germany has taken the bold step of putting in place measures that will dramatically increasing its use of renewable energy resources in the coming decades. The world’s fourth largest economy is committed to generating a third of its energy from renewable sources within the next decade, and 80% of its power by 2050. The success of Germany’s energy strategy is vital for the success of renewable energy adoption in the future; Other powerhouse economies such as Japan and the United States are watching intently to see if renewable energy can not only meet the energy requirements for a powerhouse western economy, but be financially feasible and provide an adequate return on investment.
Feldheim is a rural town located approximately 60 kilometres from Berlin in northeastern Germany. What makes this town so remarkable is its decision to invest in its own electricity grid that delivers all its energy requirements from renewable energy resources. In 2010, Feldheim’s 150 inhabitants each contributed €3,000 to the construction of the grid that produced a 30% average saving in electricity costs. A combination of wind, solar, and biogas provide all the electricity and heat energy necessary for Feldheim.
Lower energy costs and a minimized environmental footprint aren’t the only benefits for Feldheim’s residents; The unemployment rate in Feldheim is zero, with local residents employed at the biogas factory, or in the wind and solar plants. This is in stark contrast to other rural towns in the struggling province of Brandenburg where the unemployment rate is 30%.
Tocco, a small town in central Italy, has also achieved energy independence through its wind and solar scheme, and has provided a host of benefits for the local community. For a country that has long been criticized by its European Union partners for failing to adopt energy efficient policies, Tocco’s initiatives are a progressive step in the right direction for Italy after receiving awards from international environment groups. Tocco’s successful adoption of renewable energy resources was in part motivated by some of the highest electricity and oil prices in the world. Combined with “feed-in tariffs”, which guarantees the purchase of surplus energy at attractive prices, Tocco was able to earn €170,000. This income from a 30% surplus in wind power allowed Tocco to eliminate local taxes, triple its street cleaning budget, reduce the town’s energy costs, and provide earthquake protection for the local school. Currently, only 7% of Italy’s power is generated from renewable energy resources. However, with no fossil fuel reserves of its own, and previous bans on nuclear power, investment in renewable energy may provide financial and employment benefits similar to those seen in Tocco on a much larger scale.