Is this a scene from the future? Nope, it's happening now....in Germany. Image via: tristam_sparks on Flickr.com
In a four-part series by Der Spiegel, the paper explains how Germany is taking charge of the future energy revolution and it is all happening today. From mega projects like smart grids and deserts covered in lakes of solar panels, to the smaller house-hold projects like cutting edge appliances and mini-power plants in every basement, Germany is taking this whole efficient energy production idea very seriously, and as The Environment Report reports, they have managed to cut their carbon emissions 23% since 1990 by supporting and taking a chance on many of these ideas. While American energy markets are almost fearful of what that knowledge might mean, preferring to not allow consumers to have any idea even how much electricity they are using from day to day. Germany on the other hand is putting all of the power back in the hands of the consumer and allowing them to produce their own electricity and make an extra buck or two if they are proactive enough.Germany has chosen six regions in which to "test" many of these ideas under their label E-Energy, which will include tens of thousands of homes and hundreds of companies in the project. The idea is to see if homes can produce all of the energy that they need from within the home, and then earn a check for any excess energy produced and then returned back to the grid. Many of the world's largest energy and technology companies from around the world are already on board, and helping to foot part of the 140 million Euro bill. Germany estimates that a successful program could save the country 10 terawatt-hours of energy every year, the equivalent of 2.5 million households.
Energy Projects Planned by Germany
Germany recently approved "offshore windparks," and they are working with several energy companies to build enormous solar panel plants in Africa which will feed energy back to Europe's grid. By 2030, Germany estimates that these and other alternative energy schemes could produce up to 1/3 of the country's energy needs. Volkswagon and Lichtblick announed they will install mini power plants in 100,000 homes, and support has already been overwhelming. Bosch is rumored to be working on a solar powered car. Cisco is working to develop a smart grid system, to be online by mid 2010.
The systems by Volkswagon will initially run on natural gas, with possible conversion to biogas. The systems will produce both heat and power for the homes, while solar panels on the roof will provide electricity for the "power plant." The project could cost upwards of $2 billion. Homes in Karlsruhe and Stuttgart have already been outfitted with solar panels and fuel cells. In addition, homes have been outfitted with monitoring systems whereby they can control appliances and generate more electricity when demand is high and they can make more money by selling their excess production.
Green Jobs and New Companies Thanks to the Energy Revolution
It is rumored that all of these changes could lead to the launch of new markets as energy and IT markets merge closer and closer with the automotive industry likely to join soon. Not only will this mean new green jobs but also the explosion of new green industries and investments in new technologies and projects. Under the new energy technology, homeowners would have a "black box" in their home from which they could monitor energy rates and cut appliances off from one location in order to not be charged under peak rates.
Appliance maker Miele, like several others, are creating washing machines that provide usage details and that can be operated remotely or programmed to turn off during peak energy periods. In order to have a grid run mainly on renewables - which are fickle depending on time of day and wind speeds - need systems whereby consumers can turn non-necessary appliances off so that energy is sent where it is most needed. Storage systems are also important for renewable energy based grid systems and this is where Germany's cars come into the picture. Cars not in use could be hooked up to the system to provide storage or energy, depending on what is needed. In Germany's Harz region, cars are already linked in to this project.
As previously mentioned, IT will play a major role in the energy future. For energy companies already in the market, this will bring them new players into the field and new competition from companies not traditionally interested in energy. Siemens estimates that the smart grid market could be upwards of 30 billion Euros by 2014, and they play to invest 6 billion Euros. They expect a return of $20 billion USD. The key is to make as many items automated as possible, to simplify as much of the system as they can. IBM and ABB are also developing platforms from which consumers can monitor their energy systems with simple programs and maximize their financial return. Other systems, almost like iPhone-apps, will help consumers manage their systems based on weather forecasts and other social statistics.
Other countries, China and the US, while not as involved as Germany, are both eager to get smart grid and energy efficient systems online asap. For now, they have to settle for watching the future today in Germany. :Der Spiegel
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