Renewable energy is attractive to many not just for its environmental benefits, but because it means independence from electrical utilities.
Now, one small town in Germany has achieved that dream--and then some.
The town of Wildpoldsried--in southern Bavaria--produces 500 percent more energy than it needs, according to a recent Navigant Research blog post.
With a population of around 2,600 people, Wildpoldsried undertook an ambitious effort to transform its energy use through new solar, wind, biogas, and hydro-electric infrastructure.
The various projects were funded largely with government subsidies.
Solar Panels by Flickr user Chandra Marsono
The goal was for Wildpoldsried to produce all of its own electricity from renewable sources by 2020. Obviously, it's well ahead of schedule.
However, what was good for the town also presented a problem for local utility Allgäuer Überlandwerke GmbH (AÜW), which had to determine how to integrate excess power into the grid.
The solution was an experimental management system co-developed with Siemens and called Integration of Regenerative Energy and Electrical Mobility (IRENE).
The system uses an array of sensors at renewable-energy sites that track the amount of power being produced and consumed.
This helps balance the grid by taking advantage of Wildpoldsried's production capacity during times of high demand.
It even turns local homeowners who have some form of energy generation capability--like a solar array--into "prosumers" who can sell energy to the utility.
Participants in the program are given devices that allow them to choose how much power they want to sell, at what time, and at what minimum price.
So while the town is no longer dependent on the grid to provide conventionally generated electricity, it shows how utilities can still benefit from renewable-energy development.
The ability to balance the grid by drawing on excess power produced by renewable sources could improve the grid's reliability.
And in the long run, of course, everyone benefits from the reduced carbon emissions that come with greater use of renewable energy.