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August, 2006 - Nr. 8


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From Pork to Solar

German Farmer Living High off the Hog after Switching from Pork to Solar Energy

   TWIG - Could solar energy solve U.S. energy problems? German laws promoting renewable energy might show us how it can be done. The New York Times reported last week about a German farmer who successfully transformed a struggling pig farm into a solar energy plan with help from renewable energy subsidies. When Heiner Gärtner inherited his father’s 200 acre pig farm in Bavarian Buttenwiesen four years ago, he faced a difficult economic choice. With pork prices falling in the face of competition from other countries, he considered selling the farm that his great grandfather established. However, a 2004 law that guaranteed minimum prices per kilowatt-hour for solar energy that were up to three times the market made it possible for Gärtner to keep his farm and make a profit. Fields that used to yield corn, wheat, and barely now produce electricity – the fruit of 10,050 photovoltaic panels.

At full capacity, Gärtner estimates that his farm could supply electricity for the entire village of Buttenwiesen, which has about 7,000 residents. Currently, however, the city only buys electricity to meet peak demand. Still, the solar farm brings in revenues of over $600,000 annually, which will allow him to repay the loans for $5 million in start up costs in about 15 years and keep his family’s farm.

Gärtner built his solar farm while the German solar industry was experiencing rapid expansion. Thanks in part to the Renewable Energy Sources Act of 2000, this industry has seen annual growth rates of between thirty and forty percent since 1999. In 2005, Germany became the global leader in the solar energy market, with over 7.2 million square meters of solar collectors installed that year.

Although solar energy only accounts for about 0.1 percent of Germany’s energy use today, it is an important element of Germany’s renewable energy plan. It’s also just one element of Gärtner’s plan. He kept his 1,000 pigs and uses their waste to fuel a biogas plant that generates electricity. As he told the New York Times, "One of the criticisms of solar energy is that it is unpredictable because the sun doesn’t always shine. This is completely predictable."
Republished with permission from "The Week in Germany"

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