Freiburg Solar Region

Posted on 01 March 2012


Solar focus feeds local economy

The main obstacle to solar energy has been its relatively higher costs. Freiburg has worked systematically, with a strategy termed the “Freiburg Mix” of political, economic, geographic, and attitudinal factors, to put solar energy at the basis of sustainable regional and urban development. The more solar energy’s positive effects can be captured and accounted for by a city and region, Freiburg found, the better its cost-competitiveness.

Keywords: solar region, solar capital, Freiburg mix, innovation, entrepreneurship

Freiburg’s international leadership for urban sustainability started in the 1970s as a result of its citizens’ successful opposition to a planned nuclear energy station near the city. This resulted in multidimensional efforts for energy saving (see also Freiburg green city). In 1986, after the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, Freiburg’s municipal council voted for a progressive energy approach focused on solar energy as the main source of energy.

This has led to the Freiburg Solar Region and Solar Capital concepts, and the Green City Freiburg cluster concept. Freiburg itself is one of the sunniest places in Germany, with 1,800+ hours/year of sunshine and an annual radiation intensity of 1,117 kW/m2. Freiburg integrated many sectors – public, commercial, energy, science, education, construction, tourism – with civil society, using support from local to national levels, to become a world-leading centre for solar energy.

R&D boosts commercial impact
For science, research and development, Freiburg has state and private research institutions including the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems (the largest such in Europe), the Solar University (holding the status of elite university in Germany), the Centre for Renewable Energies (CEE), and an international MSc programme on Renewable Energy Management. These have functioned as hubs for spin-off companies and organisations, e.g. SolarFabrik, a zero-emission hotel, the International Society for Solar Energy (ISES), and the Regio Freiburg Energy Agency. Freiburg provides support to organisations in a range of ways, including subsidised rents for premises.

Commercial impacts
Thorough these strategies, solar and its offshoot industries have become the leading business sector in the Freiburg region (see also Baoding and San José). Freiburg has been innovative in creating a defined “environmental sector” of employment, investment, and knowledge. Freiburg’s solar sector comprises at least 100 business entities. These range from international companies like Soitec Solar GmbH, SolarMarkt AG, Solarstrom AF and Solar-Fabrik AG (one of many small companies that became market leaders) to locally-oriented solar architect firms. Freiburg hosts the main international exhibition for the solar technology industry, Intersolar, and the city has clustered solar energy in a technology park.

Building demand
Demand for solar energy is promoted through multiple strategies. For example, there are some 1,000 installations of solar panels on public buildings, e.g. schools, rail stations, and football stadiums. Freiburg used a regulation that required the city to obtain 10% of electricity from renewables by 2010. Freiburg also requires a stringent energy standard on all new home-building, and this also leads to the use of solar panels (see also Barcelona). The main energy provider Badenova is majority owned by the public sector and plays a leading role in delivery and promotion of renewable energy. Freiburg benefits from the range of supports for renewable energy at the national (federal) level in Germany: subsidies, tax allowances, loans for renewable energy, etc. Via a federal feed-in tariff, homes and organisations that install renewable energy systems (like solar panels) can sell electricity back to the grid at a highly attractive price (see also Gainesville).

Awards recognising Freiburg’s work include its being named as Germany’s Federal Capital for Climate Protection in 2010, the German Solar Prize, and the British Academy of Urbanism’s 2010 European City of the Year, among many others.

Freiburg municipality, 2011, Green City Freiburg - Approaches to Sustainability,

Guy Dauncey / Solar Region Freiburg, 2003, “Freiburg Solar City”,

Energie-Cités, 2002, Solar Region Freiburg – Solar energy and sustainable regional development, Freiburg

Peter Newman, Timothy Beatley, Heather Boyer, 2009, Resilient cities: responding to peak oil and climate change, Washington, DC: Island Press

Key data are retrieved from the UN Demographic Yearbook 2011,

Text by: Aaron Thomas

Stadium of the "SC Freiburg"
© Flickr/Patrick H~
Map Freiburg
Freiburg Green City graphics
© FWTM/Cluster Green City