At the foot of Germany’s beautiful Black Forest sits an over 900 year old city complete with spectacular medieval architecture. But there’s more to the city than just cobblestone streets. Freiburg, Europe’s “Solar City” or “Green City,” is known for its livability, impressive environmental policies, and abundant solar panels. Here’s a look inside, Germany’s “Solar City” and what we can learn from it.
History of Freiburg
Freiburg’s green history dates back to the 1970’s when the city proposed a nuclear power plant be built in the Black Forest. This spurred an anti-nuclear energy movement. Locals were concerned about a potential nuclear disaster, exposure to radiation, and other health and environmental impacts. Thousands of protesters from diverse backgrounds like wine growers, farmers, architects, teachers, police officers, and doctors, camped out at the construction site for nine months. This fierce opposition permanently stopped the power plant’s construction and became a catalyst for a larger anti-nuclear and green energy movement in Germany.
Since then, Freiburg has become a hub for progressive environmental policies and citizen-led activism.
Environmental goals and policies
Freiburg has ambitious environmental goals. The city aims to be run by 100% renewable energy by 2035 and achieve complete carbon neutrality by 2050. It’s not all talk though, Freiburg also walks the walk:
Like all of Germany, Freiburg has what are known as “feed-in tariffs.” A feed-in tariff is essentially a guarantee of above-market prices for companies who produce green energy like solar or wind power to the energy grid. Feed-in tariffs incentivize the “implementation of renewable energy sources by providing guaranteed long-term contracts to renewable energy producers.” These tariffs are often essential for green energy producers as the initial start-up cost of production can be quite high and potentially unfeasible.
There’s a reason it’s called “solar city” : Freiburg has over 400 solar panel installations, produces over 10 million kilowatts of electricity from solar energy each year, and has many homes that run almost entirely on solar power. Even the soccer stadium is solar powered. SC Freiburg’s stadium uses solar and recycled energy to power the complex and could soon become entirely carbon neutral. Much of this is thanks to the weather. Freiburg is one of Germany’s sunniest cities and gets around 1,800 sunshine hours per year.
Investment in the future
Beyond 2023, Freiburg plans to invest some €12 million ($13.7 million) a year into environmental protection measures. One such measure is to create a completely carbon neutral neighborhood. The Dietenbach district in Freiburg will provide over 15,000 homes run completely on solar panels and waste heat from the sewage canal. The neighborhood will also feature ample green spaces and easily accessible public transport.
Vauban, Europe’s greenest district
Frieburg’s Vauban neighborhood is certainly Europes, and perhaps the world’s greenest district. If you had a birds-eye view of the neighborhood you would see hundreds of glittering rooftops covered with -you guessed it- solar panels. The neighborhood boasts ultra low energy homes powered by solar power and a wood-fired thermal power plant that gives every resident electricity. Vauban also has centrally located public transport and entire streets dedicated to pedestrians. In fact, most residents of Vauban don’t even own a car.
Unfortunately, all of the features that make Freiburg and Vauban great, also make it expensive. A mix of a beautiful location, sustainable living, and ambitious climate proposals have made Vauban and Freiburg at large much less affordable than many other German cities. Instead of a mix of incomes, the city tends toward wealthier inhabitants with little room for affordable housing.
What we can learn from the “Green City”
As American demand for more sustainable energy sources and urban design grows, we can learn a few things from Freiburg’s example:
Freiburg has over 600 hectares of parks, 160 playgrounds, and has large green space areas for hiking and recreation. This not only contributes to overall happiness of residents, but the many plants and trees help clean the air, beautify the city, and moderate the temperature. When developing green cities, allowing for and creating green spaces should be a top priority.
Like many European cities, Freiburg has excellent public transportation. The ease of getting around the city makes using and even owning a car less essential. Additionally, less cars equals more space for walkways, parks and pedestrian streets. When planning American cities, good public transportation can reduce the overall carbon footprint and provide equitable means of getting around the city for everyone.
Investment in green energy and tech
Clearly, the success of Freiburg is due in large part to the city’s investment in green energy and technology. American cities could follow their example by investing in solar and wind energy for places like stadiums, commercial buildings, and residential blocks.
Cost and affordability
One of the biggest cons of Vauban and Freiburg is the cost of living. City planners and governments should be intentional about creating spaces for many different incomes and attempt to keep costs down where necessary.
The Green City
Freiburg is already inspiring the world. In 2019, Padua, Italy, installed Italy’s largest solar farm based off of the “solar city”. In the United States, Madison, Wisconsin has made plans for a solar city center inspired by Freiburg’s. Hopefully, more and more cities will follow Freiburg’s lead to make green energy the norm.
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