Taking the energy tansition into your own hands

Generating electricity, yourself? It isn’t as strange as you might think. With your own solar power system, you can contribute to the energy transition. And you can earn money with it as well. Or join others in forming a citizens’ energy network. In this way, you can take part in the energy transition with only a minimal investment. In addition, there are many incentive programmes for home owners to help finance such measures.

Residential house with solar panels on the roof
Photo credit: Shutterstock/manfredxy

Your own solar power system

Your solar-powered calculator sets a good example: With the help of photovoltaic cells, you can put the sun’s energy to work. On a larger scale, solar modules on your roof also convert the solar rays into electric power. An electrician needs to install this solar power system. The price varies according to the size of the area covered.

This kind of power generation is subsidised by the state via the Renewable Energies Act (EEG). The sum varies according to the size, location, and type of system installed. You can and should determine whether the investment is worthwhile, as it depends partly on the house’s location.

Your own solar heat system

Solar heating uses solar panels, which are installed on the roof, house wall, or in the garden. Here, solar energy is converted into heat, which can then heat tap water and the water for the house heating system. If the sun is shining, this works in the winter as well. Using a local heating network, the hot water can also be conducted to other buildings. The Federal Office of Economics and Export Control (BAFA) subsidises the installation of thermal solar panel systems.

Using geothermal energy

Geothermal energy is energy in the form of heat below the surface of the earth. This heat can be collected with a probe and transported to the surface with a heat pump. This can be used to heat a house and its water.

Investing together

Not everyone has the opportunity or the financial means to install solar modules or solar panels. And yet with a minimal investment, you can still make a contribution. Many success-ful citizens’ energy networks have demonstrated that it can work. By coming together in a collective, citizens can consolidate capital and know-how, enabling them to realise even large projects. For example, they might invest in a wind park along with others or lease roofs in order to install a solar power system.

Citizens’ energy networks

  1. You can take part in a purely financial sense, thus profiting from the feed-in compen-sation by making even a small financial contribution. Another possibility is to estab-lish an operating company with other citizens. These companies, specifically known as citizens’ energy networks, allow you to become a co-owner with co-determination and controlling rights. Citizens’ energy networks can be founded and run in various forms. The following three are the most popular:
    A partnership as provided for by the German Civil Code, a Gesellschaft bürgerlichen Rechts (GbR), is the fastest and simplest form to establish. Theoretically, it can be established by as few as two persons and without a written partnership agreement. After expenses have been deducted, the feed-in compensation for electricity gener-ated can be proportionally distributed among the partners. However, the partners bear full liability (including personal assets).
  2. For larger projects, therefore, it is advisable to found a GmbH & Co. KG. This limits the liability of the partners while also making it easier to involve more investors. The process of founding and administering such a company is quite involved, however.
  3. A registered cooperative society (eG) has its own legal status as outlined in the Co-operative Societies Act (GenG). Every member has a vote in the general meeting, re-gardless of his or her capital investment. Liability is limited here as well. Approxi-mately 150 energy cooperatives with over 37,000 participating citizens have been founded in Baden-Württemberg since 2006.

Heating with biomass

Biomass heating systems are already making an important contribution to the energy transition. By switching over to wood-fired heating, you can reduce greenhouse gas emis-sions. Wood is a carbon-neutral fuel; when it is burned, it releases only as much carbon as the trees have bound in their lifetimes. An oven in your living area or a central heating boiler in your cellar, for example, can burn wood pellets. You can also heat your house at lower emissions using woodchips and split logs. Make sure to purchase wood with short transport distances, however, as long distances unnecessarily increase the carbon footprint.

You can obtain financial support for heating with biomass. The Federal Office for Economics and Export Control (BAFA) subsidises boilers for burning wood pellets and wood chips. The State Institute for the Environment, Measurements and Nature Conservation has a page with tips on heating properly with wood.

Refurbishing for energy efficiency

By making improvements to the structure of your home or modernising your heating system, you can make a great contribution to the energy transition. Depending on the type of building, the insulation can be renewed in the roof, walls, cellar, and windows, making the building shell as impermeable as possible to heat loss. In terms of energy efficiency, you can do almost anything when refurbishing – anything from a low-energy house to a plus-energy house.

With the right measures, you can reduce your house’s energy consumption up to 80 per cent – a great deal when you consider that many houses more than 20 years old consume approx-imately 200 kWh per square metre. This can also be dramatically reduced by modernising the heating system. According to the German Energy Agency (dena), about 63 per cent of residential buildings in Germany were built prior to 1979.

Home owners must start by asking themselves the right questions. How much energy do I want to save? What financial means are available to me? Technical feasibility and potential rules on the protection of historical buildings and monuments also play an important role. When considering all this, you should calculate for the long term. Minimised utility costs, the improvement of building structure, and numerous subsidy programmes make refurbishment economically worthwhile. The Zukunft Altbau telephone hotline, an initiative of the Baden-Württemberg Ministry of the Environment, Climate Protection and the Energy Sector, offers independent and objective information, including regarding subsidised opportunities, and can put you in touch with experts. You can reach the hotline at 08000 - 12 33 33.

When you are ready to get started, banks such as Förderbank KfW and L-Bank support refur-bishing projects with affordable credit lines.

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