This appealing concept is being pursued by many people, especially in Germany, who are organised into cooperatives, committed to the energy transition and regional value creation. One example is the Black Forest Citizens’ Energy Cooperative (BES).

Energy from citizens for citizens

With 220 members, the projects operated by it include a ground-mounted solar power plant near the small town of Alpirsbach in the northern Black Forest. The sheer figures for Peterzell Solar Park are impressive already: 880 kilowatts of installed capacity across a 6,000 square metres area on a site totalling 15,000 square metres, 3,600 modules, each with a rated output of around 250 watts, investment costs of almost one million euros. The plant is managed by a Solar-Log 2000.

900 000 kilowatt hours PV electricity per year

It required a colossal effort to construct this plant on the landfill site, recalls Ulrich Seiz, who is on the six-member cooperative board. They tackled the major project together with the operator of the landfill site, which is still in use, and a large coalition of the willing (citizens, neighbours, local politicians, bank, etc.). The plant has been reliably generating electricity since summer 2013. The targeted annual yield of 900,000 kilowatt hours “is generally easily achieved,” says Ulrich Seiz. The large plant on the landfill site feeds its entire output into the grid, with the Black Foresters marketing their electricity via the nationwide “Bürgerwerke” network.

PV-Anlage

Bureaucracy is a major obstacle

The environmental engineer and building biologist knows that difficulties with such large-scale PV systems are not so much of a technical nature, even if there have been problems with several of the 32 inverters. Many volunteer members of cooperatives tend to lose interest because of the considerable red tape, frustrating bureaucratic obstacles and the sometimes absurd regulations that are still hindering renewable energy. “We would like to try out a lot more, but we’re not legally allowed to,” the board member responsible for local energy and e-mobility regretfully says. “Legally, we’re treated like any cooperative bank,” he adds. With shares ranging from 100 euros to a maximum of 15,000 euros, anyone interested can become a member of the cooperative, which pays out an average of 2 to 3 per cent in dividends.

Future of citizen energy

Ulrich Seiz and his comrades-in-arms are currently dealing with a major animal problem. Until now, a shepherd has let his flock of sheep graze on the site, but the living lawn mowers are no longer there and the green under the module arrays is now sprouting. There are also increasingly fewer shepherds in the Black Forest. Mow the grass by hand? Hardly feasible with 15,000 square metres of land. Against all the odds, the advocates of a more environmentally friendly energy future are constantly planning new projects, some of them in cooperation with local authorities. The money earned is reinvested in environmentally friendly power generation. Seiz: “We’re always looking for roofs.” The cooperative is meanwhile running projects with a total output of 1 megawatt.

Seiz signals that the energy cooperatives will “very much oppose” plans, which have evidently re-emerged from the Federal Network Agency in Germany, to force old PV systems to generally feed their power into the grid. Every kilowatt hour of electricity generated by renewable energy prevents the combustion of environmentally harmful coal, gases and oils. This is worth fighting for.