Local Renewables Conference 2016

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                                        Historical Merchants‘ Hall

Last week took place the seventh Local Renewables Conference in Freiburg. Organized by ICLEI and cities of Freiburg and Basel, the three-day program included plenaries, workshops, speeches, guided tours, cross-border travelling and the most delicious chocolate brownies.

The conference started off with a post-Fukushima theme where it became clear that Japan is transitioning towards locally produced renewable energies. Even though the renewable share in the national power supply is still rather low, the interest and commitment is possibly higher than in Europe. Especially fascinating was the energy and community concept of Miyama.

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                      Presentation by Tatsushi Isobe, President, Miyama Smart Energy Co. Ltd., Japan

Miyama is located on the third largest island of Japan. The region is flat and extremely sunny – ideal for harvesting solar energy. Thus, Miyama Smart Energy Co. Ltd. has founded a solar power plant with shared ownership between public and private. Part of the profits are used in community projects. One of them is checking on the well-being of the elderly. This is carried out by a program that monitors the energy consumption of the elderly and in case of unusual activity, the neighbours or relatives are alerted to check on them to ensure they are ok.

In fact, the region has very high percentage of the elderly as the young people leave the area for a search of better opportunities. Miyama Smart Energy company has started carrying out initiatives in schools to introduce their business concepts. Will it keep the youth in the region, employed in the solar sector? Perhaps – let us come back to it in few years’ time. In case anybody visits the region – we would be delighted to hear more about the ongoings of the region.

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                 From left: Takanori Hoda, Monika Zimmermann, Eri Nakajima, Tatsushi Isobe, Akio Nishiizumi.

In the afternoon, a study tour took place in Gundeldingerfeld, Basel. Gundeldingerfeld is an abandoned industrial area (former electric transformers‘ factory for naval use) developed into a heritage-led sustainable project. Thus, today the district stands for self-sufficiency, circular economy, citizen participation and energy management. The evening culminated with a Welcome Reception at Blindekuh Basel.

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On Thursday the focus was on achieving 100% renewable energy in the EU with a key on connectedness. While the local renewable sources provide autonomy and independence, the energy transition should also increase our connection and interdependence – together we can achieve more and have smarter energy management.
The issue of pilot abundance was raised by Antonella Battaglini from Renewables Grid Inititiative, which resurfaced throughout the remaining conference. She pointed out that in Europe we do “pilot projects after pilot projects” but we fail to continue these efforts once they are carried out – even if they show promising results for scaling up. What could be done about it? One thought was to start with the post-pilot projects in very small scale – the risks are smaller, finance easier to attain, learning is fast, changes are adaptable.

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The Freiburg tours took place in the afternoon with Andrea Burzacchini from aiforia guiding one of the groups through Vauban (see below photos shared by participants on Twitter).

The first plenary on Friday examined local renewables in smart cities further. As digitalisation is part of the energy transition, the focus turned towards data privacy. Here Prof. Alfen pointed out a critical question: “Would you rather give your data to Google or to the local municipality?”. Indeed, we tend to be alarmed when there is discussion on monitoring our data, while we provide it rather freely on the internet.

That was it for this year, but we are already looking forward to the next conference in the Local Renewable series. I wonder, what will be the theme for the 8th LR conference?

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Million thanks to ICLEI, the City of Freiburg and the city of Basel for successfully organizing this year’s event, and special gratitude to Petra Heß, Juan Iglesias and Isabel Fernandez.

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