German Bioenergy Regions: about impacts, local implementation and important ‘body parts’

25.2.2014 at 15:42

Moritz Albrecht

In a 2009 competition the German Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Consumer Protection and its agency for renewable resources, called FNR, choose 25 exemplifying Bioenergy Regions from all over Germany to be part in a 3 year Bioenergy Regions programme. Today, after a re-evaluation of the Regions, the programme continues with 21 participants until 2015. Administered by the FNR the initial aims of the project surrounded networking and aimed to develop a solid basis for a strong and sustainable development of bioenergy production and utilization in the regions. Today, the second phase highlights the creation of local added value through bioenergy, improvement of existing supply chains and knowledge exchange with new partnering regions. Generally, the project must be seen to be a part of the German ‘Energiewende’ (energy transition) towards an increasingly renewable energy supply in line with national and EU climate action targets, yet sugar coated with a touch of rural development project to it - or might it be the other way around?

Anyway, if you pick 25/21 regions from all over Germany and provide them with a rather open framework, for obvious reasons the approaches as well as the initiating organizations of the various Regions vary widely. The project has therefore generated a vast array of valuable local examples, networks and also a substantial amount of built bioenergy capacity (Biogas, Wood based CHPs, bioenergy villages, pellet stoves...). However, the project also raises substantial questions: where does it fit within the bigger picture of EU or even the international struggle with climate change? Are those Regions merely a water drop in the ocean? Are they even sustainable in their local implementation (some actor groups doubt it)? Can they act as a blue print for regional bioenergy development internationally or at least national? What about the pressing problems within urban centres?

When we look that regional energy autonomy is highlighted in many approaches, I cannot see how this could function similarly (bioenergy based) in an urban setting. Based on their limited - even though partially large - biomass potential such regions further are hardly suitable to act as the bioenergy generators for our cities. Of course their suitability for that role is largely defined by the regional environment but maybe even more by the various understandings of how much sustainable use is! An agreement on these sustainability aspects does neither exist among the Bioenergy Regions themselves nor within their single boundaries. The international impact is yet another. The Regions cannot really be called internationally well connected, yet they have a certain radiance based on a multiplicity of foreign visitors which want to learn from the German way. However, to grasp the local peculiarities which play a decisive role in successful or non-successful bioenergy development in such short visits might be questioned, as well as a simple reproduction of the things observed into different spatial settings. So I think they can be regarded more as a source of inspiration! While this is indeed an aspect of high merit to my understanding, it has to be seen if it falls on fertile ground within the home countries of those visitors.

So when it comes down to the regions, is this approach then all about the famous slogan ‘think global act local’? I guess this depends on who you ask. While the motivation with the regional initiators is most likely situated within this frame to combat climate change the local implementation is often said to be based on decisions made by ‘a person’s most important body part’: the wallet, thus, through financial incentives or economical reasoning. This approach obviously leads to positive results in terms of bioenergy development as the success of the Bioenergy Regions display and I do not want to claim that the same persons do not share a concern for the climate or environment at the same time. But is this enough to develop a strong, if not to say radical - as this might be what we would need - new pathway towards a sustainable society or are we merely confronted with a project concerned with what Ingolfur Blühdorn has called simulative democracy? So a project which is part of a political programme that makes us believe that everything is done to solve the problems and that we’re on a sustainable way while it actually avoids questioning the general pathway (e.g. economic growth) or to target the actual problem in itself. To put it provocative, in this case a project for rural economic development with a green topping?

From the perspective of the Bioenergy Regions beyond their local impact, such as more renewables, a feeling of togetherness and progress or the creation of a public debate on the matter, I have a personal guess. That is that the approaches with a focus on the environmental education of young children and teenagers compared to more bioenergy capacity building approaches might yield a higher potential to create added value and overflow in terms of a wider impact on our societies sustainable development in the future. But of course that depends on what is taught to them and second, that I might be mistaken in my own judgement about what is necessary and helpful!

Finally, I have to say that I think that all the regions I visited for my research do a great job in what they are doing: being successful Bioenergy Regions each in their own way.



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Moritz Albrecht

Moritz Albrecht


Blog written by Moritz Albrecht in relation to his research topics on transnational bioenergy governance.

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