Ausgabe 37/2009

The Future of Energy A Power Station in Your Basement

Green-energy provider Lichtblick and German automaker Volkswagen are joining forces and promising to stir up the energy market with an unusual plan. Instead of relying on massive energy facilities, the average consumer may soon have a miniature power station in their basement.

The mini thermal powerplant is cheaper and more flexible than its larger counterparts.

The mini thermal powerplant is cheaper and more flexible than its larger counterparts.

Chief executives of Germany's major energy suppliers usually don't have much time for their junior counterpart, Lichtblick. The Hamburg-based green-electricity provider's half a million customers may be "impressive," they say, but Lichtblick works in a niche market and is no competition for the larger companies in the industry.

But things may be about to change. In the next couple of days, the relatively small company is due to reveal a new business model that could shake up the energy market quite a bit -- and not only in Germany. So, despite the fact that they currently have large power plants and considerable power over the market, things may soon turn a little less comfortable for energy giants like E.on and RWE.

Lichtblick -- the name translates as "glimmer of hope" -- is no longer content with distributing eco-friendly gas and electricity. Ten years after entering the market, the group wants to take a shot at the electricity-generation business as well -- and to do so while collaborating with a unusual partner on a completely new idea.

Unlike Germany's well-established energy giants, the Hamburg-based company isn't planning to build a few colossal wind farms or solar-panel systems. Instead, it wants hundreds of thousands of buildings and private households to get their own highly efficient mini "home power stations."

Mini Power Stations

The ambitious new project could be worth billions of euros and generate enough electricity to replace up to two nuclear power stations or even coal-fired power plants in the near future. The technology required to put this plan into practice is highly complex, but -- depending on demand and the market situation -- the new setup could network 1,000, 10,000 or even 100,000 small natural-gas-powered thermal power stations and, in effect, instantly create a virtual large one.

A giant quantity of electricity could be generated by such a system. Channelled straight from the basements of individual houses, where Lichtblick plans on installing the mini power stations, it could then be fed into the public powergrid. Likewise, the mini stations could also provide a source of cheap thermal energy and warm water for each household.

It may all still sound like a fairy tale, but developers at Lichtblick have actually been testing the system as part of a field trial in Hamburg. What's more, now one renowned company has shown an interest in becoming a partner in this pilot project: the Wolfsburg-based motor- and auto-manufacturing giant, Volkswagen.

For many years, Volkswagen engineers based in the central German town of Salzgitter have been tinkering with different ways to build a highly efficient thermal power plant. And there are good reasons why VW is looking into the field. "Much of what you need to manufacture a mini powerplant" is already found in ultra-modern automobiles, says Rudolf Krebs, a director of Volkswagen's powertrain-development division.


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