Sprakebüll is a small German village, west of Flensburg, where wet meadows extend as far as the eye can see. Most of the village’s population of 240 has worked in agriculture for decades. About 20 years ago, 24 of them pooled their resources to fund a community wind farm. The investment was seen as a risky venture, as the technology was still new, but wind is one thing the region has in abundance. The farm became a full-on success, especially because of Germany’s Renewable Energy Sources Act. Today, local wind farms produce more electricity than needed. The search for ways to make use of all this excess energy ended when electric cars and electrolyzers came into the picture.
Thanks to the Renewable Energy Sources Act, or EEG for short, the people of Sprakebüll can be laid back about all those times when the turbines in their area stop running. If wind power plants are shut down temporarily because the electrical grid is filled to the brim with eco-power, operators continue to earn money based on the law’s 20-year feed-in tariff and preferential treatment clause. But for many in the region, money was not the main concern when they invested in these installations. Rather, they wanted to make sensible, that is, eco-friendly, use of the energy that the plants produce.
Surplus goes into car batteries
Several years ago, the plants began to generate more electricity than the region could consume. When looking for ways to deal with the excess capacity, the population in northern Germany discovered the benefits of electric transportation. In December 2016, people living in Sprakebüll bought a total of 15 electric vehicles. Last May, the inventory increased to 20, earning the community the top spot on the list of Germany’s towns and cities with the most electric cars per head.
The people of the village can lease vehicles at favorable terms, which the e-Mobiles Dorf Sprakebüll association and GreenTec Campus, based in Enge-Sande, negotiated with manufacturers. The rates that association members pay are comparatively low. For example, a Renault Zoe costs EUR 2,000 upfront and EUR 299 per month over four years. The monthly payment for a Nissan Leaf is EUR 281.
The cars are leased through eE4mobile, a 2010-founded cooperative of more than 200 individuals, businesses and institutions. The cooperative has entered into collaboration with GreenTec Campus, which is both the name of the company and the premises it owns. The primary aim of GreenTec is to promote electric transportation based on fully renewable power. Among other things, it offers a track for free test drives. But there is more happening across the region.
Hans-Christian and Christian Andresen are father and son and share the role of CEO at Solar-Energie Andresen in Sprakebüll. The company’s main business is the sale of solar systems. But considering that the Andresens live in the wind-rich north of Germany, it should come as no surprise that they have also invested in several citizen-funded energy parks and associated companies. In fact, their entire business life seems to revolve around energy. They, themselves, seem to have plenty of it. They need that energy, as they have a lot of ideas for starting new ventures. So far, neither challenges nor unforeseen hurdles have stopped them from implementing their projects. Thanks to their relentless efforts, Sprakebüll and Klixbüll have become models for the rest of the country.
Meanwhile, the high demand in Klixbüll has led to the lease of a second Dörpsmobil (see photo). Members of the association founded specifically for this purpose can rent the car for only EUR 3.5 an hour, at an annual membership fee of EUR 60. The revenues are said to be enough to cover the running costs. According to village officials, the breakeven is at 90 hours of car use a month. Last year, Sprakebüll, too, decided to lease a Dörpsmobil and rents it to members of its own association for a fee of EUR 3.5 per hour.
Hydrogen production instead of pipeline injection
Currently, however, there are not nearly enough electric vehicles to make use of all the surplus energy available throughout the region. The villages neighboring Sprakebüll and Klixbüll began looking for other eco-power consumers a long time ago, and they will need those alternatives. In four to five years, some wind systems will no longer be subject to the 20-year feed-in tariff that has so far provided their owners with a great deal of planning security.
Delays in installation meant that the citizen-funded project by wind energy pioneer Reinhard Christiansen (see interview in H2-international, January 2018) was completed no earlier than 2000. But the project’s six turbines, installed near Ellhöft, directly on the Danish border, were technologically so advanced that they did not need later repowering, that is, replacement. They will be the first to lose the feed-in guarantee in a few years.