This Tuesday, President Katsouleas announced the creation of a joint student-faculty working group to create “coordinated analysis, policy formulation and strategic planning on issues of sustainability, particularly reducing emissions.” In the announcement, which came via a campus-wide email, Katsouleas made an open call for applications from the student body, stressing that “diversity, including with respect to academic background, will be an important consideration.” The group will work for the remainder of the Fall semester and into the Spring to create a detailed action plan for the University.
The formation of this group comes in response to student demands from the Sept. 20th climate strike and subsequent sit-ins. Momentum for a student-led working group has been building since last semester, when UConn@COP24 fellows and Office of Sustainability interns discussed the idea with UConn’s Executive Vice President & CFO, months before President Katsouleas began his tenure as President on August 1st. The University Senate has played a key role, by endorsing the strikers’ demands and being continuous advocates for sustainability on campus. President Katsouleas has also agreed to convene a committee of the Board of Trustees, TAFS, to focus solely on coming up with recommendations for addressing the demands!
These are monumental steps in the right direction from the university administration. Not only is President Katsouleas committing to rapid forward momentum on the issue of sustainability, but he is also positioning students at the forefront of that effort.
All students who are interested can apply by sending a letter of interest and resume to email@example.com. We strongly encourage all interested UConn students to apply!
This October, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a report that has shaken the global community. The IPCC was invited by the UN to report this year on the effects that we would experience if the global temperature warms 1.5℃ (2.7°F) above pre-industrial levels. They released a full report along with a technical summary and policymaker summary. The report contains scientific, technical, and socio-economic findings and has major ramifications across these disciplines. The contents of this report are grim, but give us a much more concrete vision of our future—something that is vital as the world makes plans to prevent catastrophic climate change.
Since civilization hit the industrial revolution in the mid-1800s, humanity has been dumping carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the air at an exponential rate. This has led to an increasing amount of sunlight and heat being trapped in our atmosphere, and consequently an increase in our planet’s average temperature. Even a slight increase in this global temperature has immense impacts on our climate and in turn the survival of life on Earth, including humans.
The IPCC report begins by defining what exactly the average global temperature was before humanity started to affect it. The IPCC defines pre-industrial levels as the average global temperature over the period of 1850-1900. The report then talks about where we are now. We have already caused a 1℃ rise in the average global temperature compared to pre-industrial levels. Effects from climate change are already happening, and at this point they are inevitable.
However, we still have control over how severe these effects become, and how long they will last. On our current global trajectory, we will reach a 2℃ increase by 2040. With the passage of the Paris Climate Agreement, the world committed itself to changing this trajectory. Countries promised to keep the increase to under 2℃, and to strive to keep the increase near 1.5℃. In reality, the agreement has little binding power. Globally, we are struggling to reach the 2℃ goal, never mind 1.5℃, which is currently categorized as ‘above and beyond.’
The IPCC report focuses on the changes in our climate that will result if we curb the global temperature rise at 1.5℃ as compared to an increase of 2℃. Although any further rise in the global temperature has and will result in devastating changes to our natural and human systems, the difference between 1.5℃ and 2℃ warming is significant. This report makes it clear that 1.5℃ should not be considered as ‘above and beyond,’ but instead as the absolute limit for global temperature rise.
By 2100, the global average sea level rise is projected to be 0.1 meter lower at 1.5℃ than at 2℃. Sea level rise will continue past 2100, and it is inevitable at this stage. However, sticking to the 1.5℃ goal and slowing the rate of sea level rise will allow more time for adaptation of coastal communities impacted by this rise. Although 0.1 meters may not seem significant, it will make a big difference in giving the world time to prepare for sea level rise.
One of the most poignant symbols of this change in global temperature is the livelihood of the coral reefs. At 2℃, more than 99% of coral reefs will die off due to coral bleaching. At 1.5℃, only 70-90% of current coral reefs are projected to die off. The loss of this incredible phenomenon would be a tragedy. The majority of the ocean’s biodiversity exists in coral reefs, they serve as a buffer that protects coastlines from tropical storms, and they function as important primary producers as well.
The frequency of a sea-ice-free Arctic during summer is substantially lower at 1.5℃ than at 2℃. At 1.5℃, an ice-free summer will happen once per century; at 2℃, it will happen at least once per decade.
In addition to the effects mentioned previously, a 2℃ rise instead of 1.5℃ will drive the loss of coastal resources, reduce the productivity of fisheries and aquaculture, and lead to greater species loss and extinction. Vector-borne diseases, such a malaria and dengue fever, are expected to increase and shift geographic regions. A 2℃ rise will lead to larger net reductions of cereal crop yields such as maize, rice, and wheat.
As the global temperature warms, the effects outlined above are expected to lead to increased poverty and disadvantages in vulnerable populations. Limiting the temperature rise to 1.5℃ instead of 2℃ could reduce the number of people who will be susceptible to poverty and facing climate-related risks by up to several hundred million by 2050.
The IPCC states that reaching the 1.5℃ goal and protecting what we can of our world requires “upscaling and acceleration of far-reaching, multi-level and cross-sectoral climate mitigation and by both incremental and transformational adaptation.” While the Paris Climate Agreement was a historical step for humankind, it’s not nearly enough to save us. The agreement was the beginning of this world transformation; true change will require continued, tenacious, collaborative effort.
This information can be overwhelming and disheartening. We at the office understand that, and know that this work requires stubborn positivity. The only way we’re going to get close to reaching the 1.5℃ goal is if we wholeheartedly believe in our mission and in the future of our world. Even if we do not reach our goal of 1.5℃, or even that of 2℃, any change we make now will still have an important effect on generations to come. So get out there and make some change happen. Reduce your carbon footprint. Vote on November 6th. Start improving your community. Collaborate with friends and neighbors. Have meaningful conversations with those around you. We are each just one person, but we still have an important, irreplaceable influence on the world around us.
Link to the IPCC’s Report: http://www.ipcc.ch/report/sr15/
Góðan daginn! My name is Emily McInerney and I am an OEP intern majoring in Natural Resources. I will be entering my junior year of college this fall semester. I recently spent seven weeks of my summer studying abroad in Iceland. When I first told friends and family of my plans I was met by confusion and concern. Mostly I received the astonished, “You really want to spend your SUMMER in ICEland?” or “Isn’t that where the sun never goes down? How will you sleep?” Well, I decided it was worth forgoing a tan because, as an environmentalist who aspires to an environmental career, Iceland is the perfect place to advance my education. Its geographic location and topography allow for the utilization of geothermal and hydroelectric energy and set Iceland at the forefront of renewable energy with the potential to lead the world toward a more sustainable energy budget.
Iceland is located on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge where it lies on the rift between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates and is considered a geologic rarity with glaciers and volcanoes creating a uniquely contrasting landscape. Beginning in 1999, the Icelandic government took initiative and began creating a clean energy Master Plan that described a list of prospective hydropower and geothermal project alternatives and ranked them based on their environmental, economic, and social implications.
I spent much of the trip further researching the highly controversial Kárahnjúkar hydropower plant (constructed prior to the implementation of the Master Plan) in northeastern Iceland. Hydropower constitutes more than 70% of Iceland’s electricity. In 2010, only 42% of hydropower available for generation had been utilized. There is therefore still opportunity for the expansion of hydroelectric energy. Hydropower is constantly replenished by the hydrological cycle and produces electricity through the process of harnessing running water. Its efficiency can be as high as 80% but it does not come without consequences. So while hydropower is, of course, better for the environment than coal, oil, and natural gas, especially since it is not a source of greenhouse gas emissions, it still has negative environmental impacts.
Hydropower requires the construction of dams and reservoirs, which can greatly transform the natural hydrologic patterns and disturb the geologic features and cycles of an area. Damming a river alters the flow of water, leading to sediment buildup upstream and thus erosion downstream, which therefore causes changes to the river channel and watershed area morphology. The altered water flow also results in a change of downstream water quality. This includes nutrient composition, temperature, and turbidity of the water and will thus affect which species the waterway is habitable to. For dams located near areas of high seismic activity, which is very common in Iceland, special consideration needs to be given to the design, because any tectonic activity could greatly damage the dam and cause significant changes to the movement of water in the area.
The Kárahnjúkar hydroelectric project raised public concern because of the environmental impacts listed above and because it provided electricity to the American greenhouse-gas-emitting aluminum smelter company, Alcoa (counter intuitive, right?). Many Icelanders were uncomfortable with the development of the power plant because it is also located within the bounds of the Kringilsárrani nature reserve, recognized for its geologic formations and thus identified as a protected area. The National Planning Agency initially rejected the plan for the project, citing that the Environmental Impact Assessment did not provide sufficient information, but the Minister for the Environment approved it four months later.
I contacted Herdís Helga Schopka (the Environment and Natural Resources Ministry’s expert who worked on the development of Iceland’s Master Plan) and inquired how, given her experience in the process of ranking the energy alternatives, she suspected Kárahnjúkar would have compared to the geothermal and hydroelectric projects evaluated in the Master Plan. She explained that the purpose of the Master Plan is to try and eliminate biases by putting it through a ranked process and that it is difficult to make an impartial decision when there is no price tag put on nature. Kárahnjúkar was essentially built because energy development coupled with the construction of aluminum factories is perceived to have many economic benefits. Therefore, there is less motivation to save the land- without monetizing the environmental costs they cannot outweigh the economic gains. She reasoned that while the power plant may have been built based onits Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), it would not have been constructed if it had been analyzed and ranked in the Master Plan.
I then followed up with Brynhildur Davidsdottir (a Program for Environment and Natural Resources Studies professor at the University of Iceland) for a second opinion. She concluded that there must be a balance between the three dimensions (environment, economy, and society) to achieve sustainability. Weak sustainability must have positive movement overall but it allows for tradeoffs. Strong sustainability has positive movement for all three dimensions. For Kárahnjúkar, it was easy to rationalize the economic value of the power plant as outweighing the environmental degradation because there was no ranking system applied to the EIA. Therein lies the tradeoff and thus it characterizes weak sustainability. The Master Plan, however, uses multi-criteria analysis and gives all three dimensions numerical value and thus portrays strong sustainability by creating a platform for comparison.
This concept can be applied to UConn’s Climate Action Plan (CAP). In 2008, UConn’s president signed the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment (ACUPCC). This committed the university to carbon neutrality by 2050. Unfortunately, UConn doesn’t have the same access to renewable resources that Iceland does. Instead, the University created the CAP to organize mitigation and adaptation strategies for climate change and to help advance sustainability on campus. The CAP’s mitigation strategies are organized into three groups: energy, sustainable development, and transportation. Each group lists tactics for improvement and describes their estimated emissions reduction, first cost, rate of investment, and time of implementation. These tactics are then ranked as either limiting, good, or excellent.
Although not a numerical ranking as seen in the Master Plan, the CAP utilizes a similar technique to compare the environmental benefits in terms of carbon dioxide reduction to the cost of the project or program. The social aspect is not directly applicable to the CAP and was not included. The CAP can thus be said to characterize strong sustainability. UConn recently received the number one ranking for the Sierra Club’s 2013 Cool Schools Survey and this can largely be attributed to how UConn has strategized and implemented measures for achieving carbon neutrality and its technique for assessing the feasibility of its greenhouse gas reduction measures.
What I found supremely interesting about Iceland is that, despite having the capacity to run the entire country on renewable energy, it has a horribly large carbon footprint. This is because the general public does not understand what it means to be sustainable. They have plenty of warm water so they take long showers. They drive everywhere, even down the block for a quick coffee, because, to put it simply, they can – it’s socially acceptable.
Here at UConn, we are working to educate students, staff, and faculty on the importance of being environmentally friendly. This is done through the many events we hold throughout the year: EcoMadness, Earth Day Spring Fling, CIMA, and much more. This new number one ranking should give students pride in their school and will hopefully help us continue to decrease our carbon footprint.
Over the winter intersession, I had the opportunity to travel to the beautiful country of Costa Rica for three weeks to take 6-credits worth of classes titled Economic Development & Human Rights in Latin America and Latin American Studies. The trip was very successful despite it being the first time UConn has attempted this specific study abroad program. Over the span of three weeks I came to appreciate the natural beauty and landscape of a country that pledged to become carbon neutral by the year 2021. Currently about 26% of the country is a “protected area”, and about 5% of the world’s total biodiversity can be found within its borders. Many of Costa Rica’s sustainable practices are integrated into the culture of the country, where a respect for earth’s natural resources and promoting environmental initiatives began as early as the country abolished their military in the 1940s. The additional savings allowed the government to reinvest it’s expenditures to improve education systems, public infrastructure and to develop commerce for the region. Sustainability in the country is also conducive to the terrain and climate, allowing Costa Rica to obtain over 80% of its power from hydroelectricity.
Beginning in the early 1990s, President José María Figueras made sustainable development one of the central themes of his administration, where a major effort was set in motion to look at the country’s sustainable growth potential. Since 1999 Costa Rica’s strategic efforts related to sustainable development through the Ministry of the Environment and Energy appear to be focused on implementing Agenda 21 at the local level as a tool to generate multi-stakeholder participation planning for constructing sustainable development. Over this period, the country also pioneered a carbon tax which is used as an incentive to pay landowners or indigenous communities per hectare, to preserve natural forests.Many reforestation efforts have been in place in the country in order to protect the primary forests, making it the country with the most trees per capita. Aside from national policy making, other local initiatives are crucial to fostering sustainable development practices, where rural areas rely on forms of eco-tourism to supplement family incomes.
The country is best known for its national parks and protected areas, demonstrating how nature conservation can become an engine for eco-tourism and sustainable development. Our group had the opportunity to travel to agricultural cooperatives and visit a village noted for its “rural tourism,” called Nacientes Palmichal. The farm was self-sufficient and used simple solutions for converting energy through a bio-digester and utilizing small plots of land for agricultural products.
My work at the OEP focuses heavily on implementing renewable technology, raising awareness to students about environmental challenges and developing a plan to address long term carbon reduction. However, once in Costa Rica, I realized the way of life of the Costa Rican people focuses on wisely utilizing resources, respecting and caring for the environment and incorporating sustainability as the fabric imbedded in the culture. Preserving the environment can improve the quality of lives for many people in the regions, where conserving water and forests are conducive to survival. In the US, the focus for sustainability is retrogressive in many aspects, where we are trying to correct an existing problem, while in Costa Rica sustainability is progressive to future opportunities for the nation.
IGNITE Challenge – Competition to Win $10,000 towards Environmental Initiatives and Awareness
What is the opportunity?
The Ignite challenge is UConn’s first crowdfunding competition that gives UConn students and young alumni the opportunity to follow, connect with, and support causes at UConn they are most passionate about. UConn alumnus, David Barton ’61, is helping sponsor the competition to promote philanthropy and to engage campus wide participation. Selected groups will compete for donors and awards, with the top prize of $10,000 to a supported cause that will benefit the UConn community.
All donations for our cause will directly go to the Campus Sustainability Fund. The Campus Sustainability Fund supports programs and initiatives that raise environmental awareness and develop conservation-minded students. Through demonstration projects like green roofs, renewable energy and biofuels, recycling and composting enhancements, campus bicycling amenities, water and energy conservation competitions, and donating reusable goods to community partners, students learn to be environmental stewards and positively contribute to society.
The Campus Sustainability Fund was enacted to provide part of the necessary capital to aid the Sustainability Office in its efforts to meet this aggressive goal to become a sustainable campus. Continuing to build a sustainable campus and creating a culture of environmental stewardship among students will require an upgrade of the University’s resources dedicated to sustainability and specifically, the further development of the Sustainability Office within the OEP. Support of the fund will ensure that UConn will continue to be a leader in sustainability within the state and throughout the country.
Why this is important?
The Ignite Challenge is the first opportunity we have had to raise significant money through a donation for the Campus Sustainability Fund (“CSF”). The CSF in recent years has been short of external funds, which are crucial to financially supporting many of our environmental initiatives at UConn. UConn has made significant progress as a top green university with the recent Sierra Club ranking placing UConn as the top 5 greenest college campus, but we need continued support.
How to participate?
Groups were pre-selected to participate in the Ignite challenge through an application process. The Office of Environmental Policy’s cause is to support Environmental Awareness and Initiatives at UConn through the cause “Students 4 Sustainability.” If you are passionate about environmental issues and would like to help your university continue its sustainability efforts, please sign up as a donor today! Winning causes will be selected based on the highest number of student and young alumni* donor participants, not on the sum of dollars raised.
*Young alumni include Graduates of the Last Decade (2003-2013)
How YOU can Donate to our cause, “Students 4 Sustainability”
There are a variety of ways to donate to our cause for the IGNITE challenge, below are some of the possibilities.
Visit our webpage at www.ignite.kintera.org/students4sustainability
Text2Give: Text 5055 with the following phrase:
For students: “uconn earth [your first and last name] [peoplesoft]”
For young alumni: “uconn earth [your first and last name] [graduation year]”
Respond YES when asked to confirm your $10 donation in a follow-up text message that you will receive. This gift will support the cause “STUDENTS 4 SUSTAINABILITY”
*More information of Text2Give can be found here: http://www.foundation.uconn.edu/text-donations.html
When is the competition?
The competition spans from February 1 – May 3, 2013
Thank you for your continued support. Remember to Go Green and Stay Blue!
For more information on the Campus Sustainability Fund, or the Ignite Challenge please visit:
Your gift to Students 4 Sustainability will be administered by the UConn Foundation, Inc. and deposited into the Campus Sustainability Fund (#22701). Donations will be used to support programs, projects, supplies, equipment, staffing and related expenses needed to develop, coordinate, promote, carry out, measure and report about UConn’s system-wide campus sustainability initiatives.
A UConn “Sustainability Exchange” Experience – Sustainable Energy at Freiburg University
Knowing from my research in preparation for this trip, and now from my conversations with local officials, how much people look to the region for its unique solar and renewable energy technology cluster, it was easy to understand why Freiburg Uni has responded by developing strong academic programs that educate future green industry entrepreneurs, leaders and policy-makers. Dr. Stefan Adler arranged for my lecture to his graduate students in the most rapidly successful of these programs – the MS degree program in Renewable Energy Management (REM). He also told me about the partnership between his academic home, the Center for Renewable Energy, and the government-funded Fraunhoffer Solar Energy Institute, located about a mile away from the Center beyond the sprawling Freiburg Uni hospital and medical school campus. REM faculty members conduct research, lectures, seminars and conferences at the Fraunhoffer Institute. I walked there and saw several arrays on and around the building and, inside, a display promoting the institute’s impressive 5th annual International Solar Summit, scheduled for this October in Freiburg.
The main entrance to the Fraunhoffer Solar Energy Institute (above) is a 20-30 minute walk from the Center for Renewable Energy on Freiburg Uni’s campus. Dr. Adler and other solar faculty members partner with the government-funded institute.
A display in the institute’s main lobby promoted the upcoming 5th annual Solar Summit in Freiburg.
Dr. Adler’s 29 REM graduate students from 20 different countries were bright, engaged and fluent in English, a requirement for admission. I presented an overview of UConn’s sustainability initiatives and activities, focusing on our 2010 Climate Action Plan (CAP) for a carbon-neutral campus by 2050 and delving into our progress in implementing several energy and transportation related strategies. When I spoke with pride about how we’ve made UConn’s very clean and efficient cogeneration facility the central energy source for an increasing number of campus buildings, the student skepticism about the cogen’s natural gas fuel source was palpable but polite. Nonetheless, I explained, our 25 MW cogen plant has displaced the use of less efficient boilers and generators, which used much more carbon-intensive petroleum diesel fuels, and it now supplies nearly 80% of the heat and power for our main campus. The students had a similar reaction when I told them about UConn’s installation this past spring of a 400 kW UTC Power hydrogen fuel cell at our Depot Campus. The fuel cell extracts hydrogen from – you guessed it – natural gas. Then, through a catalytic process, instead of combustion, it generates most of the electricity and some of the heat for the Depot extension of our main campus. Each year, this fuel cell will avoid the consumption of millions of gallons of cooling water and the emissions of many air pollutants, including 800 tons of CO2, versus the conventional power sources that would be needed to produce a comparable amount of energy.
The REM students pointed out: “But natural gas is 100% fossil fuel! How can that even be a bridge to a truly sustainable strategy? Isn’t the US just delaying the transition to renewable energy by switching from one fossil fuel to another, coal to natural gas?” I think most of them understood the economic and political realities in the US, and elsewhere around the globe, that have made the transition to renewable energy slower than any of us would like. But they raised good questions that led to a lively discussion. One student encouraged me to develop more ambitious interim carbon-reduction targets for UConn’s CAP. I loved the students’ passion for renewable energy and enjoyed our policy-level dialogue.
Dr. Juergen Steck, my principal Freiburg Uni host and counterpart, who is the “Umweltschutz” director overseeing both environmental compliance and sustainability, filled me in on the use of renewable energy in campus operations. He was one of the university project leaders charged with meeting the 550 kW goal of the Solar Uni initiative. He and his staff of nine, including a climate protection manager, keep meticulous records and file detailed reports about greenhouse gas emissions from campus operations. They also maintain data about metered and un-metered energy use in campus buildings as well as energy production from various sources, including solar power. At his desktop computer, he opened several Excel spreadsheets and graphs that had been prepared to ensure compliance with Germany’s climate protection laws.
In our conversations, Dr. Steck shared his concerns that the campus had literally run out of rooftop space for additional solar arrays. Based on the abundance of arrays and several green roofs already installed on campus buildings, he worried whether there would be any remaining rooftops available with the necessary characteristics: proper orientation to sunlight, structural integrity, and at least a 20-year remaining lifespan. As in the US, a number of Freiburg’s older campus buildings are protected by historic preservation laws and remain off-limits to solar panels.
According to my Freiburg Uni counterpart, green roofs like this one, which was visible from the upper-floor offices across the quad, along with 550 kW of rooftop solar arrays already installed, have used most of the available space on campus for future solar installations.
Beyond solar, the rest of Freiburg Uni’s energy picture is also tinted green. Dr. Steck explained how the campus uses groundwater for geothermal cooling of half of its buildings. It’s a non-consumptive, non-contact cooling use of the naturally cold water drawn from the aquifer underlying the university’s campus. His department’s job is to make sure that the water is returned to the aquifer, after its use, free of any chemicals or other contaminants and no more than 5 degrees Celsius warmer than when it was pumped out. For the rest of the campus heating and cooling needs, he told me that, only recently, after a long and careful analysis, Freiburg Uni switched from burning coal at its central utility plant to burning biomass, comprised of wood chips from a sustainably-harvested local forest.
Despite all of these green energy attributes, I wondered how much the typical Freiburg undergrad was aware of the university’s commitment to sustainability and renewable resources. At UConn, we’ve just completed our Renewable Energy Strategic Plan for deploying demonstration-scale sustainable energy projects on our campus over the next five to seven years. For us, the public visibility and academic accessibility of future projects were, and will be, important site selection criteria. We hope to integrate tours of these installations into various courses, from science and engineering to the humanities. At Freiburg, on the other hand, none of the Solar Uni rooftop arrays was visible, much less accessible, to students or the general public. I was told the university had installed an energy dashboard, not at the student center or a large classroom building, but at the Rector’s inner-city office, blocks away from academic buildings and daily student traffic. Maybe when your campus is in the middle of Germany’s “Green City,” where renewable energy has flourished for decades and installations are commonplace, there isn’t as much of a need for high visibility demonstration projects.
On an overcast day, wind mills in the Black Forest (center) on the edge of the city, were faintly visible from the Freiburg Uni campus.
A UConn “Sustainability Exchange” Experience – Renewable Energy in Freiburg, Germany
This is the third in a series of blog posts by Rich Miller, UConn’s Director of Environmental Policy, comparing and contrasting aspects of environmental sustainability at Freiburg University (Albert Ludwig University at Freiburg or Freiburg Uni) and in the “Green City” of Freiburg, Germany, with similar sustainability aspects and metrics at the University of Connecticut (UConn) and its main campus located in Storrs, within the small town of Mansfield and the rural surroundings of northeastern CT. Rich received a professional staff travel grant from UConn’s Office of Global Programs and used it to visit Freiburg over a two-week period in July 2012 for this international sustainability exchange program.
What would you expect from Germany’s “solar city?” Taking advantage of the fact that it’s located in the sunniest region of the country – a relative distinction compared with the often cloudy and cool northern Europe – Freiburg has installed more solar panels than any other city in Deutschland, and more than many countries in Europe. Dr. Stefan Adler, the enthusiastic Director of Uni Freiburg’s Center for Renewable Energy, explained to me how the city’s green reputation and passion for solar energy was borne during the 1970s from a grassroots fight against a proposed nuclear facility, which was planned for an area just northwest of Freiburg, along the Rhine River. The protestors, led by local farmers, prevailed and the nuclear plant was never built. Today, the long-time Green Party mayor, Dieter Salomon, remains a popular incumbent, and solar panels, wind turbines and small hydro-electric facilities have been part of the cityscape in Freiburg for years. The anti-nuclear sentiment remains strong among the general population and, decades later, is still part of the sustainable energy message communicated by the mayor’s office and local businesses.
Solar panels are on many buildings in Freiburg, like this photovoltaic array on the side of an office building near the main train station. Freiburg has more than 12.3 MW of solar PV (mostly roof-mounted), which generates more than 10 million kWh of electricity a year.
Old meets new: New wind-power turbines on the edge of the Black Forest overlook Freiburg and the 800-year old Munsterplatz cathedral. A total of five Freiburg wind mills produce 14 million kWh per year and two more are planned. (F. Breyer, Büro der Bürgermeisterin, Freiburg)
A few small hydro-electric facilities can be seen along the Dreisam River, which flows across the southern portion of the city. Freiburg’s hydro power produces nearly 2 million kWh a year and 80% of the electricity used to run the regional trams. (F. Breyer, Büro der Bürgermeisterin, Freiburg)
I met with Dr. Franziska Breyer, the city’s environmental director, in the town hall or Rathaus (a German word with an unfortunate double entendre in English), to talk about Freiburg’s plan for achieving carbon neutrality by 2050. She was busily preparing for an important meeting of a town commission that evening, when she was hoping for the board’s approval to raise the bar on Freiburg’s interim carbon reduction goals. Dr. Breyer, who is a forester by training, and a former faculty member at Freiburg Uni, was also pressed for time because her job title and management portfolio had recently been expanded to include youth, schools and education. With that kind of addition to her workload, I was grateful that she could spend any time meeting with me, much less an hour, and I appreciated the presentation materials she gave me from her latest annual report to town officials: “Approaches to Sustainability – traffic policy, climate protection and urban development planning in Freiburg.” Many of the facts and figures cited in this report are from these excellent presentation materials.
In addition to the governmental, residential and commercial building owners who have installed solar arrays throughout the inner city and surrounding village districts, Freiburg University has also made a large investment in roof-mounted solar PV. On the university’s 550th anniversary in 2007, their Rector (chief academic official) announced a “Solar Uni” initiative with the ambitious goal of installing 550 kW of solar panels on campus over the next five years. Using government incentive programs that ensure a guaranteed rate of return for solar investors, many people, including students, faculty and staff, actually acquired equity shares in these on-campus installations and, by 2012, the Solar Uni initiative achieved its lofty goal. In turn, these same incentive programs stimulated the growth of German solar developers and manufacturers, several of which are clustered in and around Freiburg.
Solar PV and thermal technology is not only a significant source of power and heat in Freiburg but also has stimulated an industry cluster that is important to the regional economy. (Photo of Solar Fabrik office building courtesy of F. Breyer, Büro der Bürgermeisterin, Freiburg)
Freiburg combines its long-standing commitment to renewable energy with more recent conservation-focused laws and resolutions proclaiming goals and mandates like: (i) zero-carbon development on land that it owns, (ii) more energy efficient replacement windows on existing homes, and (iii) low energy standards for new homes. For example, in the Green City’s Vauban eco-district, which was established in the mid-1990s through the redevelopment of the barracks in a former French military base, homebuilders must ensure that new residential buildings waste no more than 65 kWh per square meter annually – a fraction of the average for most homes in northern Europe. Walking down the main street in Vauban, along the two tram lines leading into and out of Freiburg’s inner-city, one sees solar panels, playgrounds and small parks everywhere. Cars are prohibited within Vauban’s pedestrian village, which also gets the bulk of its electricity and thermal energy from a centralized combined heat and power biomass plant.
As I left the eco-district and headed back to Freiburg’s inner-city on the tram, I checked “Vauban” off the list of destinations on my official Green City tour map. It had been well worth my time and the four euro roundtrip tram fare, but I was thankful that I hadn’t paid 180 euros for the two-hour guided tour. Eco-tourism is a big business in Freiburg, including group tours of man-made features, like Vauban, and nature excursions to places like the Black Forest.
Solar panels are on the rooftop of virtually every apartment building in the Vauban eco-district. Envisioning an affordable, sustainable energy community, Freiburg developed Vauban in the early-1990s by converting the barracks of a former French military base.
Vauban’s biomass plant, combined with solar, produces heat and power for the entire eco-district. (F. Breyer, Büro der Bürgermeisterin, Freiburg)
Solar panels are everywhere in Vauban, including on the rooftop of this café and commercial building.