© Darko Pribeg on Unsplash

© Darko Pribeg on Unsplash

Being Climate Neutral - Berlin a Model Student?

Becoming a climate-neutral city is one of the objectives set by Berlin for the future and this has been bindingly included in the Berlin Energiewendegesetz  (Energy Transition Act).  Accordingly, the city is to become climate neutral by 2050 and will reduce its carbon dioxide emission by at least 85 per cent (with reference to 1990) - a very ambitious objective. Public authorities will an must be "frontrunners". It is for this reason that the Act prepares a number of obligations for the public authorities.  It is planned, for example, to have the Berlin Senate- and district administrations become CO2 neutral as from 2030, meaning that - amongst others - there will be extensive renovations to be carried out at buildings. In this way the primary energy consumption will be reduced by 80 per cent up to 2050 compared to 2010.

But these efforts, made by the municipality, are by far not the end: Right now a number of projects in several districts of Berlin are already working to turn Berlin into a climate-neutral city as far as possible.  

In this respect the people living in the Gelben Viertels in Hellersdorf are considered to be lucky: About 3000 tenants receive solar electricity from their own roof and at favourable conditions.  This is made possible by 8000 solar elements that were installed on the roofs of about 50 buildings between the Erich-Kästner-Straße and Carola-Neher-Straße in 2012 - representing the size of six football grounds; about 1400 tons CO2 are thus saved annually. The solar plants generate approximately 40 to 50 per cent of the required electricity, while the rest is supplied by the cooperation partner ‘Lichtblick‘ at preferential conditions.

Three million Euros were invested in this project. And this is not a very large amount considering the benefits:  The tenants do not only save money but also actively contribute to the protection of the climate, while at the same time such projects sensitize the public in respect of environmental - and climate-related subjects. They also serve as a model function for other districts.  

There are also efforts ongoing in Spandau to supply tenants with more favourable and environmentally friendly produced energy. In 2014 the Gewobag started a pilot project at the Falkenhagener Feld, where nearly 1500 apartments are supplied with cheaper electricity and heating via a cogeneration plant in their district. According to Gewobag this saves each tenant up to 100 Euros per year.

Close by at the Blasewitzer Ring Gewobag has set up a further experiment: There is a photovoltaic plant installed on the roof of a high-rise building as well as special windrails suitable for being used in cities without the negative effects such as noise emission, throwing shadows and generating vibrations. Together they produce about 95,000 kilowatt hours of green electricity and thus help to avoid 45 tons of CO2 emissions per year. The electricity is not only used for the individual tenants and their flats but also for lifts, ventilation and lighting the overall residential estate.

The Potsdamer Platz has a definite futuristic feel to it - to be more specific - 15 m below the surface.  It is here that the Versorgungszentrum [supply centre] (VEZ – a logistics centre of gigantic dimensions) places a lot of emphasis on sustainability. Only due to the work down there, life up there becomes possible, as about 10,000 people are working and living around the Marlene-Dietrich-Platz; about 100,000 pedestrians passing there daily. They want to eat, do their shopping, have fun and enjoy a cultural life. All this is on offer in 30 restaurants and 130 shops - who in turn must be supplied with goods daily and subsequently be relieved from the rubbish afterwards.  And Germany has a lot of rubbish generated by packing materials, as a recently carried out survey by Eurostat reveals: In 2016 the average German citizen generated 220 kilogrammes of packaging waste per year - the EC average in comparison was 167 kilogrammes per person.

The reason why you only see the occasional lorry and refuse collecting lorry at the Potsdamer Platz is owed to the fact that everything happens below ground.  Daily 180 lorries are loaded and unloaded at 19 ramps in the VEZ. A state-of-the-art waste disposal plant to work environmentally friendly,  particularly designed for the VEZ, looks after more than 3500 tons of waste per year. The plant divides the waste into 13 types and evaporates food waste to a third of its original volume. The VEZ area comprises seven hectare and has a system of walkways five kilometres in length travelled by electric cars.  All this made possible by Alba, the operating company. Alba was founded in 1968 as a small family-run company. At the time the boss himself separated the waste. In the meantime Alba employs 9000 people) and its turnover amounts to 3.2 billion Euro annually.  

Ruhleben makes a virtue of necessity (https://www.bsr.de/biogasanlage-22250.php): Here about 60,000 tons of organic waste is converted into climate neutral biogas by means of micro-organisms each year and subsequently fed to the gas network. And all this without having to use maize or rye reducing agricultural areas and exacerbating the problem of producing food.  

Biogas is used to supply gas-driven garbage vehicles of the Berliner Strassenreinigung BSR (Berlin road cleaning service), collecting more than 60 per cent of the residual waste and organic waste in Berlin, thus avoiding 9,000 tons of CO2 emissions per year. In doing this BSR does not only think about the climate but also about the costs it is saving because its vehicles do not have to use Diesel fuel anymore.

The converting process also reduces the amount of organic waste to be composted which is an additional positive benefit. And this also contributes to a good climate as the climate destroying gases methane and nitrous oxide are released in large amounts during the composting process.

Berlin has every reason to be proud of its many future-oriented innovations in respect of protecting the climate. It is, however, desirable to have other districts and quarters follow these examples or “at least” consider the possibilities, making the climate targets to become a realistic probability. And what but beneficial environmental conditions could turn a city into a city worthwhile living in?