Freiburg, Germany


Since the 1970s Freiburg has developed a reputation as Germany's ecological capital. By 1986 the City had a vision for a sustainable city reliant on an ecologically-oriented energy supply, today its solar, energy efficiency and transport programs are among the best in the world. Until 2007 CO2 emission have been reduced by more than 20% per capita, there has been a 100% increase in public transport use – with up to 35% of residents choosing to live without a car Freiburg is living proof that solar can work in the Northern Hemisphere.

What is it? 

A sustainable city driving down CO2 emissions by regulation, incentives, design, long-term commitment and policy reform.

How does it work? 

In 1996, the City passed a resolution, the Climate Protection Concept, to reduce CO2 emissions to 25% below the 1992 level by 2010. Target areas include energy (i.e. in buildings, private households and businesses, and in industry), and transport. Emissions from waste, farming and forestry are not included because they are negligible. The majority of the City's emissions reductions have come from co-generation. Almost 50% of the City's electricity is supplied through a CHP steam and gas plant called Rhodia. Heat from the plant is used for industrial purposes for the chemical industry. 2007 a new climate protection strategy to reduce CO2 emissions up to 40% by 2030, based on a expertise of the Eco Institute, was adopted by the city council.

1. Energy

The City has achieved major reduction in energy use by energy saving, energy efficiency and renewable energy use including solar energy. The National legislation guarantees a fixed price for electricity generated from renewables (e.g., PV). The rate is guaranteed for 20 years and is considerably higher than standard electricity tariffs. This has helped the City to make solar use widespread. As of 2008, the City’s total PV installations covered over 13,000 m2. Freiburg is one of Germany's sunniest regions, with 1800 hours of sunshine a year, but it only receives 1,117 kWh per square meter of solar radiance, which is lower than southwest England, and about the same as most of England and western Scotland. Despite this, a strong solar business and culture has developed in and around the City.

Private and City sponsored solar projects

The City has:

  • Some 1,000 individual solar PV photovoltaics, ranging from 1 or 2 kWp household size to large scale power stations with over 300 kWp
  • solar thermal for hot water and heating
  • solar sunrooms or "wintergardens”
  • passive solar design homes
  • solar cooling
  • transparent solar insulation – converting solar radiation touching the walls into useable thermal energy

Private and City sponsored projects:

  • 35 out of the 70 municipal schools have installed PV systems, some also solar thermal water heating.
  • The world's first football stadium with solar equipment – it has installed a large solar PV array on its roof, generating a total of 290 kW, and has some 60 m2 of thermal collectors for showers
  • Freiburg's Central Station has a solar PV facade that is 19 floors tall, with 240 solar modules
  • The University Hospital Cafeteria has a 272 m2 solar thermal equipment, for their kitchen and dishwashing
  • The Exhibition and Trade Fair which hosted Europe's largest solar trade fair Intersolar over last few years has a 440 kW solar panel on its roof and an extra 254 kWp on the recent extension of exhibition halls.

Solar Investment Subsidy

The regional power supply company, Badenova - jointly owned by a number of regional municipalities and a natural gas company - offers a solar investment subsidy of about 300 ERO for customers who want to install photovoltaic panels. The program is financed from electricity sold under the brand label Regiostrom as an alternative to the standard electricity. Customers can chose between these two tariffs – one is 1.5 cents more expensive, but guarantees to support renewable energy projects, such as photovoltaics, biomass and small hydropower. There has been a 10% take-up by Badenova's customers, who have voluntarily chosen electricity from regional and renewable energy sources. This has led to:

  • A steady increase in the generation of clean electricity.
  • Solar has become more economically competitive.

The yearly volume of the Regiostrom fund is some 500,000 EURO. Assuming that the subsidies cover less than 10% of the actual investments, this equals a total investment of more than 5,000,000 EURO a year in Freiburg and its region– the majority of this goes to providing the 300 EURO rebate.

Solar Village

A new ecologically designed settlement for a population of 6,000 people is built on the site of an abandoned French military base. This includes Europe's most modern solar housing project - at Schlierberg, with 50 solar houses that produce more energy than they consume, designed by Rolf Disch, one of the most renowned solar architects in Europe. (SEE Eco- community Vauban). A Freiburg low-energy house – such as those compulsory in Vauban – has a defined heating energy demand of 65 kWh per m2 per year. A passive house has 15 kWh per m2 per year or less. In addition, Solar-Fabrik, a solar module zero-emissions production plant set up in 1996 - it is powered by 570 square metres of PV and a rape seed oil-fired combined heat and power plant and has supported many solar projects.

Solar Research

Freiburg is also attracting solar research and development organizations, including:

  • The Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems conducts research for practical solar applications all around the world, and has developed new systems for solar cooling and air conditioning..
  • A vocational college runs a Solar Training Centre, producing the technicians and installers who are needed to service the growing activity.
  • The International Solar Energy Society (ISES), ICLEI and numerous other solar institutions have located their headquarters in Freiburg, and the city has often hosted major European solar energy conferences, attracting many delegates.

CO2 reduction

In 1997, the average Freiburg citizen produced 10.6 tons of CO2 annually. In 2007, the average Freiburg citizen produced 8.53 tons - three quarters of which comes from the energy sector.

Energy: CO2 emissions have reduced from 1,660,000 tons CO2 in 1993 to 1,394,000 in 2007 – a 16% decrease

Transport: CO2 emissions have reduced from 413,000 tons CO2 in 1993 to 393,000 in 2003 – a 4.8% decrease

Energy and Transport: CO2 emissions have reduced from 2,073,000 tons CO2 in 1993 to 1,787,000 in 2007 – a 13.8% decrease.

Energy savings

  • In 2003 34.1 million kWh p.a. electricity from renewables would replace the same amount of climate-damaging electricity
  • In 2007, around 40 million kWh p.a

Next steps

The City is aiming for 10% of the electricity from renewables by 2010 – in accordance with German federal government's 2001 Renewable Energy Law, currently it is 4%. This is because the City is without major hydro-power facilities and the development of wind energy has been limited. Biomass - especially the use of Biogas - offers the greatest opportunity to meet this goal, along with solar. A internet based tool to indentify every roof area in Freiburg has been launchend in April 2009. This tool provides all information for the owners of buildings concening photovoltaic and solar thermal potential of their roof area (


As an economic development driver, Freiburg's solar strategy does not require any specific structure, or core funding. It is powered by the synergy created by the city's vision among many solar players working together, who gain a mutual benefit from each other's presence. In the open market, solar PV is still too costly for most builders and developers.