In 1944 British aircraft flattened more than 80% of Freiburg in the south of Germany. Walk around the city today and you see an astonishing transformation. Not only have many historic buildings been restored but Freiburg has become a beacon of sustainability.
From its railway station to football stadium, this city of 200,000 people has almost as many solar panels as the whole of the UK. Thanks to a feed-in tariff the electricity companies buy solar power generated by households at up to 3 times the price that the householders buy electricity. This has made solar electricity cost-effective – and the impact is clear. Solar panels producing both electricity and hot water are everywhere you look. A recent article in Green Inc. details the Ontario experience with feed-in-tariff and adaption to maximize results.
Freiburg is also home to Europe’s foremost solar power research institute and a host of solarpowered concept buildings. One of these is a house that rotates on a pillar, following the sun. Another is an office tower with the southern side completely covered in solar panels.
The Freiburg suburb of Vaubon gets two thirds of its electricity from the sun. Its ‘passive houses’ virtually heat and cool themselves. Built on a North-South orientation to make the most of sunlight, with all windows double-glazed and large south-facing ones to let in more sunlight, they are also highly insulated to keep in the warmth. Fresh air is brought in through underground ducts using the soil to regulate the temperature. Solar collectors and ground source heat pumps provide warm water. But there’s more. Vaubon’s ‘energy plus’ homes are designed to produce more energy than they consume. Triple-glazed windows are treated so that virtually no solar heat is wasted. 40 cm-thick external walls are fitted with high-quality timber and felt for optimum insulation. A solar power station on the roof generates electricity.
Transport Freiburg’s green credentials don’t stop at heating homes. It also boasts a highly energy-efficient transport system. 5 tramlines (waiting time no more than 7 minutes) 22 bus routes encourage people to use public transport a city’s cycle lane network which has grown from 29 km to more than 400 km in the past 15 years.
There are also more bikes than residents in the city. Cyclists have the right to ride both directions on one-way streets. One third of Freiburg’s streets are reserved for bicycles, one third for trams and buses and a third for private vehicles. A new bicycle facility next to the train station offers a safe cycle lock-up, rental and repairs.
The city centre is a carfree zone, drastically reducing pollution and creating a relaxed atmosphere. With a car sharing scheme half of Vaubon’s 5,000 inhabitants have opted out of being car owners. A speed limit of 15 km per hour, a ban on parking except for loading, and bike racks along residential streets all encourage people to use bicycles. Arriving in Freiburg is like walking on to the film set of a futuristic city. But it is here now and demonstrates the extraordinary potential we have to reduce our carbon emissions today.