March 17, 2014

High-flying careers? ... 300 steps to go.

On March 12th 2014, we visited the energy park Bruck/Leitha in Lower Austria. After having picked up DI Ralf Roggenbauer in the center of Bruck, we went to see two of the four renewable energy sites owned by Energie Park Bruck/Leitha. The sites do not only tell a success story of 5 local farmers, but also of renewable energies in Austria. The co-owners and founders have been friends for a long time and had grown up together. However, when Austria joined the EU, they realised that they would not be able to survive on the open market as small farmers. They thus looked for another possibility to make additional use of their fields. They visited wind farms in Northern Germany and then planned their small 5-wind-turbine wind park, which was the first one in this area. In fact, the fields around Bruck are like a tunnel for the wind as both easterlies and westerlies have to pass through the hilly landscape here. This creates an almost similar wind condition as can be observed on the North Sea with an average 7 m/s.

This wind park was our first destination. We got to climb one of the wind turbines, which has a glass gondola attached to it as a platform for visitors. Only 300 steps (60-65m) above ground you have a wonderful view over Lower Austria. It wasn't windy and the sky was very blue and so we could see over the whole area, or at least those of us who hadn’t become seasick on the shaking stairs. The wind park is build with turbines from Northern Germany. They are more expensive and have no gear box, but they thus also need less maintenance and all in all the farmers were happy with the investment. In fact the wind turbines had been financed by the local bank and by the local people with risk funding as the farmers wanted to keep it all in the region. And as it all turned out so well, they have made quite a bit of money. Did you know that you need 500 truckloads to build such a wind turbine? Quite a lot of emissions during construction then, but now they are providing the whole town of Bruck with green electricity and are even exporting it.

The second site we went to is the biomass heating plant which had already been part of our course program as one of our teachers, Prof. Ortner, had planned it. The fuel for this plant is wood from forests owned by the five farmers as well as residue from carpentries and Christmas trees. They thus have a double profit as they own the fuel and sell the heat. If this plant was built nowadays, it would probably have a smaller combustion container and be located closer to the heat consumers, but as it was a pilot project at the time, the efficiency is already quite high. The plant consists of two burners: a small one, running alone over the summer, and a big one, used alone for intermediate periods and in combination with the small one during cold winters. The five farmers take turns in their daily 5 minute visits of the plant, but actually it all works pretty much without personnel.

All in all a very successful excursion on a wonderfully sunny day.

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