RENEWABLE ENERGY 100 % Renewable - the small town leading Germany’s energy revolution
Germany is committed to the transition to renewable energy sources. One small town took this pledge seriously and now sources all of its electricity needs from renewable sources. The village of Wolfhagen is an amazing example of how one town took control of its energy supply.
When it comes to the uptake and development of renewable energy sources, Germany is proving to be a world leader. Already, more than 50 % of Germany’s power needs in the first quarter of 2022 were generated by solar and wind energy sources. Germany’s Renewable Energy Law (EEG) reflects its commitment to Energiewende (energy transition). By 2030, Germany aims to reach a target of providing at least 80 % of electricity via renewable sources. Five years after this, the country is hoping that almost all its energy needs will be met by renewables. With renewable energy making up 42 % of electrical production in 2021, Germany seems to be well on its way to meeting these goals.
The image of Germany as a manufacturing powerhouse and a center of innovation gives credence to the idea that the country will achieve these lofty ambitions. However, one of the pioneers of Germany’s journey toward 100 % renewable energy was not a major city like the financial hub Frankfurt, the economic stronghold of Munich, or the hip capital Berlin. Instead, the first place in Germany to reach the goal of 100 % renewable energy was the humble township of Wolfhagen in Northern Hesse. This picturesque town of only 13,500 inhabitants managed to transform the way it produces and uses electricity while also generating profits that are reinvested in the community.
Wolfhagen is an inspiring story of how one small community came together to take control of its electricity needs. Through determination and the development of local renewable energy sources, Wolfhagen was able to achieve sustainability and self-reliance.
How Wolfhagen Led the Way for Renewable Energy in Germany
Wolfhagen’s path to sustainability began back in 2003 when a local engineer named Martin Rühl became aware that the town’s 20-year license with energy supplier E.ON was about to expire. Rühl, it must be noted, was more than just an engineer. He was the head of the town-owned electricity supplier Stadtwerke Wolfhagen. After an intense three-year legal battle with the giant energy company, Rühl and Stadtwerke Wolfhagen were able to wrest control of the town’s electricity grid back from E.ON. Remarkably, more than 280 other cities and towns throughout Germany have taken inspiration from Wolfhagen and reclaimed their electricity grids.
In 2008, Wolfhagen made the decision to source all of its household electricity needs from local renewable resources. The town began to build a wind farm and a solar power park with the aim of achieving this goal by 2015. This goal was well and truly achieved. In fact, the people of Wolfhagen managed to meet their renewable energy targets early. In 2014, Wolfhagen became 100 % powered by its renewable energy sources.
Renewable Energy by the People for the People
Today, Wolfhagen boasts a 10MW solar farm with 42,000 panels, the biggest of its kind in the Bundesland. Wolfhagen also has wind turbines that produce 12MW of energy, two biogas facilities that transform waste material into energy and even has hydropower capabilities. At present, the town produces more than 105 % of its electricity needs per year. The remaining electricity is sold to other towns and villages in the nearby areas. The profits generated by these sales were used to pay off the town’s not insignificant amount of bank debt and now fund community services like the local kindergartens.
Wolfhagen didn’t stop there. The town also made a commitment to involve its citizen in the direct running of Stadtwerke Wolfhagen. So, in 2012 the cooperative BürgerEnergieGenossenschaft Wolfhagen was created. BEG Wolfhagen now owns 25 % of Stadtwerke Wolfhagen, has over 800 members, and has an estimated worth of more than EUR3.5 million. The cooperative gives citizens direct control over the operations and direction of Stadtwerke Wolfhagen. Currently, of the nine seats on the board of Stadtwerke Wolfhagen two are occupied by the cooperative.
The BEG Wolfhagen has also developed an energy-saving fund that receives profits from Stadtwerke Wolfhagen. The fund enables citizen-led initiatives that aim to increase energy efficiency and speed up the process of decarbonization. There are also plans to create a smart network that helps townspeople to optimize the use of their household devices by alerting them when energy stores are high and prices are low.
Wolfhagen has won many national awards for its innovative renewable energy strategies. The town hosts regular visitors from countries such as Japan and South Korea who are keen to learn about the Wolfhagen method. It has also more than doubled the number of staff employed in the local energy industry, bringing much-needed jobs to the area. Although Wolfhagen’s many beautiful cross-timbered buildings and a connection with the Brother’s Grimm give it a historic ambiance, this is one small town with its eyes firmly on the future. Wolfhagen’s journey to becoming 100 % renewable is proof that a sustainable energy industry can be created on a local level.