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Ideas from Germany

In May (09) I had the opportunity for a quick visit to Germany, in and around Munich. Here are a few immediate impressions. I will go into more detail as we work our way through the piles of documents and notes we brought back.

The immediate impression is on how well kept everything looks. Smooth roads, not a sign of trash, clear traffic signs – the place just looks polished. The absence of poles carrying wires, cables etc. is such a pleasure. Then driving through the small villages you see roof after roof covered in PV panels.

Solar hot water and PV panels on every roof of this new suburb.  Note also the steps built onto the roof to make maintenance easy.

Solar hot water and PV panels on every roof of this new suburb. Note also the steps built onto the roof to make maintenance easy.

Farms, commercial buildings and public buildings, like fire stations, are just covered in the things. New suburbs, because of building regulations and incentives, sport both solar hot water panels and photovoltaics. Large wind turbines rotate slowly on some hills – not many, but there is always one in sight.

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Energy, how to conserve it, how to save it, how to stop importing it from the Middle East and from Russia crops up in almost every conversation. The idea of Russia controlling the gas supply is a visceral problem for the Germans. Everybody has an opinion; some want to go low tech using just solar thermal with some wood firing backup for the coldest days (see http://www.bio-solar-haus.de/). Some like all the high tech stuff; one of the coolest is an integrated system that takes in the on-line weather forecast and adjusts the heating and cooling system in advance. And some have vehement opinions about government policy; like the inevitability of a major accident at a nuclear reactor. The point is that there is discussion and that the discussion is wide ranging, educated and fierce.

The standard house is built of masonry, with a tile roof. New masonry techniques allow for practically airtight and well-insulated construction without further air sealing effort. Passive solar, in terms of large south facing windows, with external shutters, and smaller north facing openings, is a common theme on display houses. Energy costs are displayed along with building prices.

Innovative masonry building materials provide insulation and air sealing.

On the road, small cars dominate of course. No surprise with fuel at over one Euro per liter – well over $5/gallon. It’s a shame that smart looking, and zippy, little things like the Audi A2, Mercedes A and B class, etc. are not on the road in the US yet. But even in Germany there is a limit. There are very few examples of the Audi A2 on the road. This car gets some 60 miles per gallon, courtesy of a small diesel engine, smart technology and light body panels. Audi stopped production because the price was just too high.

I think that some of the building ideas, and products, will have the same appeal in the US as German cars.

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