GERMANY German utility company Stadtwerke München is investing in renewables outside of Bavaria, and among others in Vattenfall projects. Who are they and what is their motivation?

Sweden, Croatia, Spain and Poland are some of the European countries in which the German municipal utility company Stadtwerke München (SWM) is investing in renewable technologies. In roughly ten years, the company aims to produce enough renewable electricity to meet the demands of the -Munich population.

Stadtwerke are a time-honoured institution in Germany and date back to the nineteenth century. They are local utilities that supply services such as water, electricity, gas and basic infrastructure, for example streets, transmission grids and sewage systems. There are about 900 Stadtwerke in Germany that are involved in energy, with the majority of them playing an important role in the Energiewende.

Several Stadtwerke have pledged to go fully renewable in the near future. SWM is one such utility and its renewable expansion campaign, launched in 2008, aims to produce enough renewable electricity in 2025 to meet the city’s future electricity requirements of 7.5 TWh. The SWM has a budget of 9 billion euros to make sure this vision comes true.

SWM’s CEO Florian Bieberbach explains that on completion of the already initiated or executed projects, SWM will have a generation capacity of around 3.5 TWh of renewable electricity from its own plants. “Further projects with great potential are being planned. We have already invested a total of around 2.5 billion euros in renewable projects.” For instance, SWM holds minority shares of 49 per cent in Vattenfall’s offshore North Sea wind farms DanTysk and Sandbank.

Stadtwerke München is using a mix of renewable energy resources to meet their ambitious goals, including offshore wind such as at Gwynt y Môr off the coast of North Wales. (Photo: SWM)

Bieberbach explains why his company chose to partner with Vattenfall: “SWM often works with partners on trans-regional projects. This offers us enormous benefits as a municipal company, particularly in the field of offshore power. Large-scale projects can be carried out on a solid financial footing thanks to co-operation with partners with a good credit standing, thereby reducing the potential financial risks for SWM. We also benefit from the existing expertise of partners who are responsible for the construction and operation of plants. Consequently, SWM does not need to deploy large staff numbers for every project.”

Vattenfall isn’t exactly known only for its renewable ambitions, so how does that fit into your green profile? “We are both energy companies shifting away from the old energy world in which conventional power plants formed the basis of supply. We are now both using the opportunities of the new world and are working hand in hand on the reorganisation of our energy supply. That is clearly not going to happen overnight, and we will also continue to require conventional power stations to maintain a security of supply during the transitional period.”

SWM currently owns and operates fossil powered assets in the shape of natural gas fired combined heat and power plants in Munich. According to Bieberbach the company aims to generate its district heating entirely from renewable energies by 2040. SWM is focusing on commissioning geothermal plants for the purpose.

SWM also sells natural gas to private and business customers. The company co-founded Bayerngas Norge, which holds about 50 licenses to operate and export natural gas. Bayerngas Norge participates in six fields with natural gas production in Norway and the United Kingdom.

So, why does a company entirely committed to powering and heating homes and providing amenities to the inhabitants of Munich spend billions of euros on renewable capacity outside of Bavaria, or even outside German borders? “We are clearly prioritising projects in the Munich region. However, we are unable to generate enough renewable energy to meet the needs of a city with over a million inhabitants. This is why the company has activities in other parts of Germany and Europe,” Bieberach says. “The European electricity grid is like a giant lake. Every kWh produced from regenerative energy sources makes the European lake cleaner. Ownership in renewable energy generation plants outside of Munich, therefore, makes a valuable contribution. The plant’s reduced environmental impact also benefits the people of Munich.”

In the spring of 2015, SWM will complete construction of its first onshore wind farm in Vattenfall’s home market. Sidensjö wind farm, located close to Örnsköldsvik, will consist of 48 three MW turbines, making it one of the largest onshore wind farms in Sweden.

However, SWM does not solely focus on wind power assets in its renewable campaign. “From the outset, we have focused exclusively on cost-efficient projects that are self-sustaining. In addition to hydropower, geothermal, solar and biomass resources, wind power is playing an increasingly important role in our strategy. It is the most efficient of the renewable energies,” Bieberach says. “But many renewable technologies, such as offshore wind, are still very recent developments, and we are at the beginning of the learning curve with them,” Bieberbach concludes.

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