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In Hamburg, New Ideas For Making And Conserving Energy


HAMBURG, Germany — I spent my final two days in Hamburg learning about the innovative methods the city is developing to provide power to its residents.

Even though the new coal-fired Moorburg power plant is still visible in the distance, on the river island of Wilhelmsburg there’s a very different type of energy project in progress.

There, in the middle of a residential neighborhood, is a gigantic World War II-era bunker. Built in 1943 with 80,000 cubic meters of reinforced concrete, it towers over the neighborhood. It was built for two reasons: to provide shelter for residents during air raids and to house anti-aircraft cannons to try to shoot down Allied bombers.

A few years after the war, the British Army destroyed the inside of the bunker. But the outside, with concrete walls several meters thick, remained. And a few years ago, as part of the International Building Exhibition, city-owned power company Hamburg Energy decided to restore and reinvent the bunker.

Now, it’s the energy bunker. The top and south wall of the outside are covered with solar panels. There’s also a café on the bunker’s roof, providing a place for locals to relax and enjoy views of the city. And inside, in the one massive room that remains, is a state-of-the-art energy system that uses the solar power, waste heat from a nearby plant and a biogas system to heat 2 million gallons of water.

When it’s finished, the bunker will generate about 22,000 megawatt hours of heat and almost 3,000 megawatt hours of electricity — or enough to heat 3,000 nearby homes and power 1,000.

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From the top of the energy bunker, you can see another of Hamburg’s ambitious sustainability projects: HafenCity. HafenCity, which translates to "port city," is located on what used to be industrial waterfront property. The city is in the middle of a multi-year project to turn the area into several new neighborhoods. They’re building housing (both luxury condominiums and subsidized apartments), schools, parks, business districts and a university.

Part of HafenCity is finished, but a large portion is either under construction or still undeveloped. On Wednesday, there were crowds of people taking advantage of the lovely weather and walking along the multiple boardwalks the city has built along the waterfront. There are also two new U-Bahn (subway stations); spokeswoman Suzanne Bühler said the city knew that extending the subway line was essential to attracting people to HafenCity and making the development as sustainable as possible.

Hamburg has some pretty serious renewable energy goals, and to meet those while still growing, the city and its economy will require efficiency. Hamburg is also a port city with one of the largest harbors in Europe and numerous large energy-intensive manufacturers.

Just like most places in Kentucky, city leaders are figuring out how to balance the environment with the economy. But unlike many places back home, residents here don’t seem to believe sacrificing one will boost the other.

I’m wrapping up the trip today in Berlin with interviews with policy experts. Tomorrow, back to Louisville. WFPL will be airing several in-depth stories about these subjects sometime next month. Stay tuned.

WFPL News’ Erica Peterson is in Germany this week on a reporting trip funded by the Heinrich Böll Foundation. Follow along with her trip on Twitter here

Erica Peterson is WFPL's Director of News and Programming.