(Jul 19, 2007)

Interest in solar energy spreading through Germany

By Paul Burkhardt
From AP

Vauban includes passive houses _ with triple-thick glass windows and walls of compressed natural materials _ that help create all the energy they will need. These cost around 15 percent more than a conventional house, according to Disch.

The passive houses are located within a district with strict limits on car traffic, where families on bikes take up the streets, some pulling carts to carry goods and others leading their dogs on leashes.

Some critics ridicule the scene, joking that passive home residents make their own breakfast cereals, shunning store-bought brands. Others find irony shining from the solar panels mounted on a parking garage.

Despite the jokes, a renewable-minded culture has been developing among Freiburg's people.

''Plus energy'' apartments designed by Disch atop the Solar Ship, a mixed residential and commercial building that contains an organic grocery and his architectural firm, each have solar panels that create four times more energy than the flats consume.

The headquarters building of solar panel maker Solar-Fabrik applies similar techniques for the workplace. It features a photovoltaic facade and a generator run on vegetable oil that together creates all the energy needed for the building.

The power company Badenova says about 10 percent of its customers now opt for a higher bill to support greater use of regional and renewable energy.

Another initiative combines solar technology and sport. The city's soccer team showers after games with water heated by solar panels on the stadium roof. The team gave season tickets to investors in the project.

Other panels on the stadium earn money by feeding electricity into the power grid and were financed by a partnership of local team SC Freiburg and Badenova, which offered public shares in the project.

For all Freiburg's efforts to use renewable energy, Dresel of the Environmental Protection Agency admits with a half-kidding reluctance that solar only comprises 0.74 percent of the city's electricity supply.

''For the time being, its still very small, but the qualitative aspect is very strong,'' Dresel said. ''This creates momentum for the future.''

Renewable energy in the Freiburg region makes up almost 4 percent of energy production. The city has set a target of 10 percent of renewable usage by 2010. Freiburg already has set some low energy requirements for home buyers.

It helped that Germany's Renewable Energy Sources Act, passed in 2000, set a healthy price to be paid for renewable energy fed into the electricity grid, and that figure was revised upward in 2004.

But even in this pioneering city for renewable energy, Disch complains that he has to be as creative in getting money for his projects as he is in designing them.

''It's getting less difficult,'' he said, ''but it's still hard.''

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