Batteries and Tariffs: A Meeting with Dr. Matthias Vetter at Fraunhofer ISE

On August 12, I had the amazing opportunity to meet with three researchers at Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems (Fraunhofer ISE). Fraunhofer ISE is Europe’s largest solar energy institute, and it’s located right in Freiburg!

My first meeting was with Dr. Matthias Vetter. Dr. Vetter is Fraunhofer ISE’s expert on autonomous power supplies, mini-grids, and electric storage systems. He is also the Fraunhofer ISE contact for the Smart Green Tower.

Continue reading

Grid Flexibility and Cooperation: A Meeting with Christoph Heinemann at the Öko Institut

On August 11, I met with Christoph Heinemann at the Öko Institut. The Öko Institut is a non-profit association that conducts research and consultancy in the area of sustainability. Its Freiburg office sits in a zero-energy building in Vauban, next to some other Green City tourist attractions. (See the bottom of this post for pictures.) Mr. Heinemann is a Senior Researcher in the Öko Institut’s Energy & Climate Division, and has worked on a number of Smart Grid projects. More specifically, his work has centered around flexibility, the ability for the Smart Grid to balance energy demand with the intermittent supply from renewable energy sources.

Mr. Heinemann started by giving me background about the status of Smart Grids in Germany. There are many government-funded projects researching Smart Grids, but grid companies have not yet needed to change their approach. This is because Germany’s grid is mostly strong enough to support the current share of 20-25% renewable energy, and there are still many conventional power plants to provide flexibility. Therefore, companies don’t yet make money with demand-side management. Mr. Heinemann also told me that the German energy trading market actually comprises two markets: a balancing energy market where energy is offered for short term balancing, and a spot market where energy is bought and sold in the longer term. A company’s flexibility options lie in the balancing energy market. After Mr. Heinemann’s introduction, we began the Q&A.

Continue reading

A Phone Call with Dr. Harald Schäffler

On August 10, I conducted a phone interview with Dr. Harald Schäffler. He has been involved in numerous energy research and consulting projects, and founded Schäffler Consult in 2011 to advise companies in the energy industry. Schäffler Consult is part of Smart Grids-Plattform Baden-Württemberg e.V., an association dedicated to implementing Baden-Württemberg’s Smart Grid roadmap. I called Dr. Schäffler to ask about his Smart Grid research and policy opinions.

Continue reading

Intelligence or Common Sense? A Meeting with Peter Majer

On August 7, I met with Peter Majer, Director of the Office of Innovation and Ecology at Badenova. Badenova is a municipally-owned power company headquartered in Freiburg. Environmentally-minded, it purchases about 82 percent of its electricity from renewables and is also the largest energy efficiency consultant for municipalities in southern Germany. Although I initially contacted Mr. Majer to learn about Badenova’s role in the Smart Green Tower project, we ended up having an extremely informative conversation in addition about German energy culture, the Renewable Energy Act (EEG), what a Smart Grid is, and Badenova’s other Smart Grid projects.

Continue reading

Exploring Environmental Governance: A Meeting with Prof. Michael Pregernig

On August 6, I met with Prof. Michael Pregernig, Professor of Environmental Governance at Albert-Ludwigs University in Freiburg. As stated on his page, one of his research interests is “the role of science and expertise in environmental- and resource policy, with a focus on effective policy advice (evidence based policy making) and democratic inclusiveness.” He has conducted numerous policy studies in Europe and the US, among other locations. Given these interests, I walked into his office with two big questions to tackle:

  • Can science/policy interaction explain why Germany and the EU have been so much more progressive than the US in terms of climate change legislation?
  • How can local governments successfully incorporate citizen participation in realizing long-term social/ecological/economic goals?

Continue reading

Life Update!

Hi friends! Sorry for posting so infrequently. During the past two weeks, I’ve been busy meeting with a bunch of different people in the renewable energy and Smart Grid space. I’m excited to share insights from those meetings with you, but the posts will be a little slow in coming since they take so long to write. (The weather’s also been really hot and humid, which hasn’t been very conducive to productivity.)

However, some small updates in the meantime:

  • Kadda finished her exams and left for vacation and an internship. While I’m so glad she’s done (she was studying all the time!), this means I don’t get to see her again before I leave. Viel Spaß, Kadda!
  • I’ve started to get more comfortable with the different parts of Freiburg and finding my way around. Of course, by the time I’m completely comfortable, it’ll be time to leave… which is kind of the point 🙂
  • After walking a few miles to/from a meeting this week in the hot sun, I decided to buy a Coca Cola. Coke here is made using real sugar, so I liked it better than the US’s high-fructose corn syrup Coke. However, I think Mexico’s Coca Cola still wins for me so far.
  • There was a thunderstorm last night. It was awesome! My apartment is on the 5th floor of the building (which here means 5 floors above the ground level), so the lightning felt really close. It was also incredibly windy up here!
  • I lost my first hair elastic today. I’m yet to lose a pen or chapstick though, and I’m hoping it stays that way!

I’ve also started receiving quotes of the day via email. Today’s seemed particularly appropriate given the recent Black Lives Matter protests and tragic news in Ferguson, so I thought I’d share it:

“If the world seems cold to you, kindle fires to warm it.” – Lucy Larcom

A Visit with EWS Schönau, Germany’s “Electricity Rebels”

On Wednesday (August 5), Sebastian and I went to visit EWS Schönau, an extremely successful German energy cooperative. EWS was founded after the Chernobyl nuclear disaster of 1986, when the town of Schönau’s provider KWR refused to phase out nuclear or move towards environmentally friendly energy. Schönau’s citizens realized the only way to change the status quo was to own the grid themselves, and after many negotiations, multiple citizens’ referenda, and a large fundraising effort, EWS was finally established (1994), allowed to operate Schönau’s electricity grid (1996), and allowed to buy and own this electricity grid (1997).

We were greeted at EWS by Tanja Gaudian. EWS currently sits in its own office building, with additional buildings for a workshop and a small entertainment center. The EWS office also has a co-generation plant, a fuel cell, and rooftop solar. With 100 employees, it’s the biggest company in Schönau (and incidentally, Schönau’s biggest taxpayer). Continue reading