Germany’s reputation as a pioneer of clean, green energy seems a far cry from the reality on the ground in the village of Atterwasch. It’s been called one of the greatest social experiments in German history, comparable with the process of reunification after the fall of the Berlin Wall.
That social experiment — known as Energiewende, or “energy transition” — is a living reality in the centuries-old village of Atterwasch, in the eastern German region of Lusatia, close to the Polish border.
Next to the village church, which dates back to 1294, the rectory roof sports an impressive rack of solar panels. The solar array recently won an “Ecumenical Environmental Award” from the Ecumenical Council of Berlin-Brandenburg.
Wind turbines turn over the low hills that rise above the village, and the surrounding countryside is dotted with small-scale wind farms and solar parks amidst fields of maize, apple orchards, and vineyards.
The “energy transition” is an ambitious set of policy measures introduced by Angela Merkel’s government in 2011. In the short term, Germany aims to generate 35 per cent of its electricity from renewables by 2020.
By 2050, that figure will reach 80 per cent, and according to Felix Christian Matthes, of the Institute of Applied Ecology in Berlin, Europe’s largest economy will be approaching full decarbonisation.Germany seems well on track to reaching that target. Already, 30 per cent of its electricity comes from renewables.
But the energy transition has a dirty secret. Renewables have been so successful that the only energy source that is still cheaper is brown coal. Since 2007, Atterwasch and four other villages have been facing demolition to make way for new open-cut brown coal mining operations in Lusatia.
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