Regional energy transition on a grand scale

Regional energy transition on a grand scale


GP JOULE is developing an integrated energy system in a pioneering project that can supply three unitary municipalities in Saxony-Anhalt with renewable energy across several sectors. A low-cost heat supply for all citizens is also being pursued. This is ensured by wind energy and photovoltaic plants that provide electricity for local heating networks.

The sixth IPPC report published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in March made clear how urgent it is to make rapid progress on climate protection. The report refers to the climate crisis as a “time bomb” and states that much more ambitious action must be taken if the 1.5 degree target is still to be achieved. Then there is the secure energy supply, which has dominated the German government’s agenda since the start of the war in Ukraine. Solutions that advance climate protection and energy security by leaps and bounds are therefore much in demand. GP JOULE is now presenting such a project with a sector coupling project for the town of Südliches Anhalt and the neighbouring municipalities of Zörbig and Petersberg in Saxony-Anhalt, united under the “Renergiewerke Fuhne” (sustainable energy plant) name. Most of the energy supply of 46 villages could be converted to renewable energy within a few years under the joint project. The electricity from wind energy and photovoltaic plants will also be used for the heat transition. This drives large heat pumps that provide energy for local heating networks.

The idea for this beacon project goes back to Ingo Marco Pannicke. He has been developing photovoltaic projects, including solar parks, in the region for many years with his company Grüne Energien Solar in Bitterfeld-Wolfen. He had the idea of large-scale heat grids and found a cooperation partner in GP JOULE, who has extensive expertise in the area of sector coupling with wind energy, hydrogen, charging infrastructure as well as heat technologies. GP JOULE has already planned and built regeneratively supported heating networks for around two dozen municipalities. Together, they further developed the first vision into a largescale renewable energy system. Something on this scale is also new ground for GP JOULE.

Places with many localities

One challenge is the structure of the three municipalities. The town of Südliches Anhalt is made up of 18 of the 21 municipalities that belonged to the Südliches Anhalt administrative community until its dissolution in 2009. Today, the town comprises 24 villages and 51 districts. Zörbig is both a town and a unified municipality with 15 villages. Petersberg, on the other hand, is a unified municipality with 11 villages. “There are many small villages spread among them. Some of these have only 50 houses, some 300 to 500,” reports Carolin Hölscher, project manager in the Integrated Energy Systems team at GP JOULE. She leads the project together with Simon Radermacher.

The political structure is also quite interesting. Each village has its local council, but there is only one main mayor and one municipal council per unified municipality, which makes decisions for everyone after local debates and resolutions. Hölscher and Radermacher and their interdisciplinary team are now developing an energy plan for this complex network.

Wind and solar power for heat generation

The energy for the planned large-scale heat pumps in the town of Südliches Anhalt, Zörbig and Petersberg is to be generated by photovoltaic and wind energy plants. To this end, around 660 megawatts of photovoltaic capacity would be installed as ground-mounted systems and on agricultural and conversion land. There would also be new wind turbines added with a capacity of about 245 megawatts.

The electrical power supplies the heat pumps, which are used to generate heating energy for the local heating networks. 26 heating grids are planned in the town of Südliches Anhalt, 14 in Zörbig and 17 grids in Petersberg. Surplus electricity is initially supplied to large customers such as industrial companies for direct consumption, but can also be used to produce hydrogen. Any remaining energy is then fed into the public grid. At least 50 percent of households must apply for a connection for the heating networks to be economical.

Information meetings on site

The first step is to generate customers for the heat supply. With this goal in mind, GP JOULE first talks to the local political decision-makers. Once they are convinced, they jointly invite citizens to information events. Hölscher and her colleagues have already visited all 24 localities in the town of Südliches Anhalt since autumn 2022, and now the citizens’ meetings are starting. They have had initial talks with political decision-makers in Zörbig and Petersberg. There is tremendous interest as connecting to the network has many benefits for the residents.

First of all, GP JOULE offers a low heat price of 11 cents per kilowatt hour, guaranteed for ten years. This means that households are freed from the currently difficult energy market and unpredictable price movements. Furthermore, home-owners do not need to worry about a new heating system if their old oil or gas heating system needs to be replaced. Nor do they need to worry about achieving the 65-percent renewable energy that will soon be required for the operation of a new heating system according to the Building Energy Act. They also reduce CO2 emissions and contribute to achieving the political goal of climate neutrality by 2045 in Germany.

Building trust and keeping promises

“So far, the response has been overwhelmingly positive, with most of the local councils in the town of Südliches Anhalt voting in favour of the project,” says Hölscher. But she is also acutely aware of the reasons for reticence and scepticism. For example, oil and gas heating systems usually run for 20 to 30 years, and those who have a relatively new one would often like to keep using it. This also applies to existing heat pumps. In this case, GP JOULE offers partial connectivity for later full connection. The lines are laid one and a half metres onto the property free of charge. It can later easily be fully connected, but at additional cost.

Moreover, Saxony-Anhalt already has many wind turbines and some citizens fear that the new turbines will only be used to feed electricity into the grid. This goes back to bad experiences they have had with other parties. GP JOULE therefore contractually guarantees that the heating networks will actually be built.

All such questions and concerns are clarified in the citizens’ events and talks in individual households that show specific interest. “We offer clear added value, the citizens will benefit personally from the wind and solar plants and this is being well received,” Hölscher sums up. She is confident that the three municipalities will convert their energy supply in the next few years. The town of Südliches Anhalt will probably be the trailblazer. The political decision to continue the project has already been made there, so GP JOULE will in all likelihood begin the first section here this year. Everything could be completed by 2030.