As fuel prices soar, environmentally conscious communities
are adopting varying strategies to go green.
Freiburg, in southern Germany, is going all out to tap
the solar power. A Freiburg neighborhood, the Schlierberg Solar
Village for instance,
consists of solar-powered houses that consume only 10 percent of the energy used
by average homes. Solar-Fabrik, a producer of solar panels, has a sun-powered
factory in Freiburg.
Solar power accounts for only 2 percent of the city's energy
supply. Still, many see the city as a pioneer in solar technology. The local
soccer club, SC Freiburg, runs its stadium largely with solar energy and power
converted from wood chips.
People who use solar panels to power their homes sometimes
produce more energy than they use. In Germany, such unused power
is transferred to the local utility, which buys it from the homeowners at a
On the other hand, straw and clay are the building materials
of choice Sieben Linden, a village in eastern Germany. Some of its roughly 100
residents live in homes built with little more than clay, wood and straw.
Straw bales coated with clay are put inside the homes'
walls. The insulation reduces the need for powered heating and cooling, making
the houses much more energy efficient than homes made with standard building
materials, according to village resident Martin Schlegel.
"The energy you save by [using straw] is sufficient to
heat this house 12 years, compared to a house built with normal modern
materials," he said.
Those who worry about the straw easily catching fire should
think again, Schlegel said. He said that because the bales were tightly packed,
they didn't ignite quickly.
"[Burning] a sheet of paper -- it is very easy. But try
to light a telephone book," he said, comparing the bales to the book.
Interestingly the villagers of Sieben Linden have also
fitted their homes with solar panels.
"Environmentally sound living always involves high
tech," villager Werner Dyck explained. "The solar panels are high
tech, and we have computers to make them even more efficient to manage our
But it has its flip side too. The strong demand for solar
technology in Germany
has contributed to a global shortage of a key panel component -- silicon --
making solar technology more expensive. Freiburg's
mayor, Dieter Salomon, said solar power wasn't necessarily the best energy
"It's a symbol, it's not the big shot," he said.
"I think the future of photovoltaic [solar energy] will be in the less
A continent away, the Chinese government plans to transform
a rural area of 100,000 people into a city of 400,000 that would run largely on
They are hoping to convert the rural area of Wanzhuang, near
an "ecocity" -- one of the nation's first.
A tram system will be introduced to reduce residents'
reliance on cars. About 300,000 more people will move to the area, which is now
known for its pear orchards.
The orchards will be preserved, and schools, offices and
shops will be placed in a manner to reduce travel needs, developers say.
Critics may note that the effort wouldn't be significant for
citing estimates it opens a new coal power plant every week, emitting more
environmentally damaging carbon.
In the Middle East, the emirate of Abu Dhabi -- a major oil
producer -- is spending $15 billion to make itself an epicenter of green
Part of its plans include building a 2-square-mile eco-community
-- called Masdar -- over the next 10 years. Air cooling alone is quite an
energy-consuming task in the sunny Persian Gulf
emirate, but developers say the city can be run on energy from the sun, wind
and biofuels refined from plants and waste.
Water will be purified by solar power and recycled from the
sea for both consumption and farming. About 40,000 people will live there, and
another 50,000 will work there, organizers say.
Meantime UN reported Tuesday that sustainable energy added
31 gigawatts to worldwide capacity last year, growing by 23 percent.
Biomass and waste to energy technologies expanded by a
whopping 432 percent.
Research and development in the sector totaled nearly $17
billion in 2007, of which $10 billion came from corporations and $7 billion
came from government sources.
Developing nations are a widening target of new investment,
which grew 22 percent to $26 billion from 2004 to 2007.
Global investment in sustainable energy amounted to $148
billion in 2007, a 60 percent gain over 2006.
That will grow to $600 billion past 2020, reported New
Energy Finance, a consultant to the U.N. Environment Programme.
And thus goes the quest for a more sustainable living.