Innovative Energy Systems and Economic Growth: The Rhein-Hunsrück-Kreis Model
Nearly 60 participants were interested in the fourth webseminar, organised as part of EUKI project Ready4NetZero, on 30 January 2024. They were able to learn more about the path of the Rhein-Hunsrück-Kreis region, which has become a benchmark for climate protection and energy innovation.
The webseminar was moderated by Ewa Iwaszuk of the Ecologic Institute, the speaking guest being Mr. Bertram Fleck, a German politician who served as District Administrator of Rhein-Hunsrück-Kreis from 1989 to 2015. Mr. Fleck is known for his advocacy of decentralized energy generation and for leading the district’s transition to renewable energy.
After a brief overview of the legal framework in Germany for energy production and trading, Mr. Fleck explained the region’s concept of climate protection in the context of the necessary expenditure and investment. He talked about typical challenges faced by municipalities, including lack of knowledge/expertise, technological and financial barriers, complexity of system operation, (local) regulations, and land use issues.
The district Energy Transition success story started in the ‘90s, one of the first steps being the efficient management of public-owned buildings, where measures have been taken to reduce heating, water consumption, and CO2 emissions. Among the region’s most important initiatives, Mr Fleck mentioned:
- Implementing regulations on the construction of new buildings;
- Extracurricular learning center for environmental education;
- Investments in renewable energy production (wind energy, photovoltaic, biomass)
At the end of 2020, 278 wind power plants with a capacity of 712 MW were operating in the region, producing more than 1.57 million kWh of renewable energy per year. This investment generated an annual income of €7.8 million for the municipality. Over the years, with an investment of €9 million, 17 local biomass energy networks have been created, providing heat for 22 school buildings, 8 sports halls, 1 town hall, 2 indoor and 1 outdoor swimming pools, 1 library, and 2 elderly people’s homes.
Another important aspect of this energy revolution has been the involvement of citizens in the process. Citizens have been ambassadors for the „1000-roofs-photovoltaic“ program, encouraging each other, and as a result today more than 6500 houses have PV installations. Community involvement has been stimulated through a continuous communication process, with weekly articles in local newspapers and campaigns focusing on the direct benefits for citizens, such as the „Rhein-Hunsrück saves electricity“ campaign, the light bulb exchange campaign, the „State of Rheinland-Pfalz“ customer advice center, the use of surplus electricity from wind and sun for the benefit of citizens by charging seven electric cars made available to residents.
Participants were curious to find out what the biggest challenges were in the transition to renewable energy and how reluctant citizens were to make the switch. And also, how small and medium-sized cities can overcome the barriers of lack of local budgets and funding to implement climate protection and energy innovation projects.
Mr Bertram Fleck shared several factors that can help to successfully implement climate protection activities:
- Establishing local networks and partnerships (citizens, schools, authorities)
- Involvement and participation of citizens, finding leaders with passion and courage to inspire others
- Increase acceptance by promoting economic success (regional added value)
- Clear communication on climate concepts
- Interactive learning centers for children and young people (If you want to change the world, you shall start with children!)
This webinar is the fourth in a series of 6 similar events, all part of the Ready4NetZero project. The next webinar, scheduled for 20.02.2024, will focus on raising awareness on this crucial topic, Climate Neutrality. The capacity building programme is addressed to public officials in the Ready4NetZero pilot cities, but also to other local authorities or stakeholders in Croatia, Hungary, Poland, or Romania. During the project, country-specific workshops, online train the trainers’ events, and study visits to Germany will be organized for a transfer of best practices and exchange of experience between local public administrations converging in the development and implementation of long-term local climate strategies.
Ready4NetZero is a EUKI funded project coordinated by the Polish Network “ENERGIE CITÉS”, with a consortium formed of the Ecologic Institute from Germany, ENERGIAKLUB from Hungary, REGEA from Croatia, and Energy Cities Romania. Ready4NetZero aims to support cities from the participating countries in developing and implementing 2050 climate neutrality strategies and seeks to do this by building capacity, knowledge, and skills among local leaders, municipal staff, and local stakeholders, facilitating experiences exchange and dialogue between local authorities.