Interview with the Mayor

How to successfully bring renewable district heating in your community?
Our German partners interviewed the mayor of Pfronstetten, one of ENTRAIN's pilot communities in the land Baden-Wuerttenberg.

Interview with mayor Reinhold Teufel, Pfronstetten

- How did the idea of building a local heating network for Pfronstetten come about?

We have been dealing with the question of how we want to supply Albhalle (gym and festival hall), kindergarten and primary school with central heating in the future for a longer time. Because of this we have connected the three buildings via heat pipes as part of earlier construction projects. So far, the heat demand of these three buildings was too low for a wood chip system to be profitable. However, recently, we acquired the Gasthaus Rose, a large building that is only 75 m beeline away from the Albhalle. It will be used as a citizens' hall and for local supply / gastronomy facilities.
With the addition of this building with high future heat demands, a centralized heat generation and distribution with a small local heating network became profitable. We were then approached by neighbors who have expressed their interest in joining - and the idea was born. 

- What made you pursue the goal, what drives you?

I am convinced that we must convert the production of our energy supply as soon as possible completely to renewable energies.
Unfortunately, a lot of people here put their attention only towards the generation of electricity, although the heat generation is just as significant at least. My roots lie in this region and I grew up using wood as a fuel. Its use has declined in the last few decades, for example because oil heating enabled significantly more comfort at low prices. Now here is a turnaround in sight, with the CO2 taxation the price situation will noticeably change. Local heating networks with heat generation from wood offer the possibility for a "heating energy turnaround" at reasonable prices and without loss of comfort. 

- What role models do you have (for the project and personally)?

My personal role model is my generation of grandparents. They managed to live at least thermally self-sufficient although the economic conditions were a lot more difficult.
With today's technical options, it should be possible to break away from energy imports for heat production in a much simpler way. That is why nearly 20 years – at that time I was working for the city of Burladingen – I initiated and implemented a first project with a wood chip heating. Since then, several hundred thousand liters of heating oil were saved, the town hall, the schools and the indoor swimming pool have been heated in an environmentally friendly way ever since. We have further good examples of local heating supplies in our own community, based on the biogas plants in Aichelau and Tigerfeld. 

- Who was / is the driving force in the project (apart from you)?

Our local council was very open to this project from the start. Nearly all committee members have direct links to the local forest and share my enthusiasm for heating with “your own energy”

- How does the local council feel about the project, how has the relationship and the mood developed?

As I said - the local council was in favor from the start. And the people followed the discussions regarding the switch from oil to wood chips were benevolent.  
Since it has been clear that other building owners also can connect to DH solution the approval has clearly grown. When the project was presented in January, the conference room was bursting, so many interested citizens were there. 

- How is the population involved?

After the public project presentation, we wanted to keep people informed by organizing different events. Our project Future Village Pfronstetten also includes the expansion of broadband supply with glass fiber and the subsequent use of the Gasthaus Rose next to the DH supply.
Corona crossed the bill, so far we could only carry out one information event, but that was also filled with the then applicable maximum number of participants. Soon we will go on a field trip to Leibertingen, where a comparable project has already been implemented. At the same time, we use our newsletter and our website to provide information. 

- How large is the population's interest in being connected to the local heating network?

As part of the Future Village Pfronstetten project, we recently carried out a questionnaire campaign: more than a third of the households in the district have shown their interest. I think we were able to raise awareness that DH is both a great solution in terms of costs and comfort.
It is noteworthy that nearly the whole 1980s housing estate in particular has indicated interest, in many households this is probably due to the necessary replacement of the heating system. Owners have the choice to either invest €10,000 or more to buy an oil heater – knowing that the price of oil will rise steadily – or a similar amount will do the same comfortable, more environmentally friendly and, above all, much cheaper in the medium to long term. And piggybacking, a fiber optic cable comes to the house with lightning-fast Internet at the same time. There is hardly a more efficient way to increase the value of your home!
In the historical town center, we still have to do some persuasion. But especially for the elderly population living there, DH can make it possible for them to stay longer in their homes. 

- What role does the bundling with other topics such as a high-speed internet connection and village renovation play?

The bundling of these topics was certainly also decisive for this questionnaire campaign to receive such a good response. It matters to the people when you involve them in issues related to their immediate environment.
When it comes to fast internet, we are already excellent with DSL in all parts of the town. The local press has already ennobled us as the "first in the region". But particularly young people know that this is only an intermediate step and the goal of all efforts must be the glass fiber. In our current development areas, we can already offer that, the DH project now allows a kind of roll-out to the entire town. 

- Which aspects and requirements are necessary for a successful implementation of a regenerative local heating network?

Clearly: it has to be profitable! Only out of idealism very few decide in favor of heating with regenerative energy. In the past, there were such projects which were only slightly cheaper than conventional heating, then the courage of people to rely on new technologies often faded. With the CO 2 taxation, where the end of the flagpole is far from being reached, this will dramatically change, and people understand that.
And: you shouldn't expect too much commitment from people. Cooperative solutions are a great approach per se, but we all know that hardly any Club can draw more from its abundance when it comes to the cast of board posts. In my opinion, the community – as with water and wastewater too – has to take over the sponsorship, and not a private company that always has increased return expectations. I definitely see synergies here, the know-how for the maintenance of wired networks and the billing of consumption fees are undoubtedly already present within the municipalities. 

- Is there any financial support for the project? By whom and in what amount?

For our project Future Village Pfronstetten and thus for the conception and preliminary planning we receive the amount of around €64,000 from the “Energy-efficient urban renovation” program. Of course, we hope for further funding from the state during the implementation to make the project profitable and thus attractive. 

- Do you receive further support (personnel, strategic)? By whom (district, RP, state, federal government)?

Our project is supported by the Climate Protection Agency of the district of Reutlingen. Besides, we work with the Clean Energy planning office from Radolfzell and the Zelsius planning office as competent project partners with a high degree of experience. 

- Which technologies are used to generate energy?

Our focus is on sun and wood, and as things stand, heat requirements might be high enough to make wood chip heating possible. Otherwise, pellets would be an option. Especially for summer operation, the use of solar thermal energy is being considered, a sufficiently large property is available for this.
To be able to use these heat sources efficiently, we are thinking of a central buffer storage unit, at the same time also decentralized buffer units in the connected buildings make sense. Fossil fuels, specifically oil, are only an option – if at all – to cover peak loads or as redundancy. 

- What are the key economic data for both the operator and the user based on the planning?

We are not yet able to make any well-founded statements here; the data that we provide will be up to date collected as part of the questionnaire campaign. The objective is that, taking all aspects into account, heat from our network is cheaper than oil heating. 

- Are these economic data for those involved on the generation side as well as on the side of use interesting in the long term?

In the end, this data will not only be interesting, but essential. If we cannot prove any economic operation, nobody will participate. But how I said, we are very optimistic here. 

- In your opinion, what benefits does the new technology have for the environment? Are there any concrete comparisons of the current and the target situation?

The benefits for the environment are obvious - a huge saving in CO2! We can only make the mentioned comparison when we know how much heat we will ultimately generate and deliver. 

- Where do you find out more?

If you go through the world with open eyes and an alert mind, these topics can hardly be avoided. Successful examples can be found in more and more places. Local heating is ultimately nothing new, but tried and tested technology with longstanding experience – the only new thing is the decentralization with which it now can be advanced. And besides, I forego shallow television entertainment and prefer to use the countless popular video portals to read articles published on successful and unsuccessful projects.
After all, you can look at and learn something from anywhere.  

- Do you have consultants on the subject?

Yes, the project partners mentioned (Climate Protection Agency of the District of Reutlingen, Clean Energy and Zelsius). We also have two biogas plants in the community that provide heat for local heating networks. There is also an exchange here. 

- Who was there from the start, who are the key figures?

In two cases I have already seen comparable, cooperative projects ultimately failed due to the discouragement of the people. Key figure in our project is therefore the community, with the declared intention of the community council, for the municipality-owned buildings to realize such a solution and to act as operator of the network. It’s just easier for the residents to have to "participate" and not have to initiate and support the project yourself

- Is there an exchange with the mayoral colleagues? How is the topic discussed there?

Especially among the colleagues on the Alb there is a lively exchange not only on this issue. Instead, in almost every community there are now smaller or larger DH networks. The local political details are too specific to adopt solutions 1:1 here. But you keep following what is going on - and then don't be afraid to adopt good approaches without restrain.

[Thanks a lot to Sabine Mall-Eder, Regionalverband Neckar-Alb for the translation]