Renewable energy A world turned upside down – Feb 25th 2017 | WILDPOLDSRIED


Wind and solar energy are disrupting a century-old model of providing electricity. What will replace it?

Wind and solar energy are disrupting a century-old model of providing electricity. What will replace it?

FROM his office window, Philipp Schröder points out over the Bavarian countryside and issues a Bond villain’s laugh: “In front of you, you can see the death of the conventional utility, all financed by Mr and Mrs Schmidt. It’s a beautiful sight.” The wind blowing across Wildpoldsried towards the Alps lazily turns the turbines on the hills above. The south-facing roofs of the houses, barns and cowsheds are blanketed with blue photovoltaic (PV) solar panels. The cows on the green fields produce manure that generates biogas which warms the Biergarten, the sports hall and many of the houses where the 2,600 villagers live, as well as backing up the wind and solar generators in winter. All told, the village produces five times more electricity than it needs, and the villagers are handsomely rewarded for their greenness; in 2016 they pocketed about €6m ($7m) from subsidies and selling their surplus electricity.

It hardly looks like the end of the world; but Mr Schröder, who works at Sonnen, an energy-storage firm, has a point. Many environmentalists want the world’s energy system to look like Wildpoldsried’s. And the things it is based on—subsidies for investment, very little spending on fuel, and moving electricity generation to the edge of, or off, the grid—are anathema to electricity markets and business models developed for the fossil-fuel age.

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