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Reichstag Exemplifies Germany’s Energy Transition Commit...

Reichstag Exemplifies Germany’s Energy Transition Commitment

Germany has been in the vanguard of going green. It has implemented a myriad of environmental policies, such as the Climate Action Plan 2050 to ensure a greener tomorrow. The plan’s objective is to eliminate nuclear energy from the nation by 2022 and to generate eighty percent of its energy from renewables by 2050. When

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Germany has been in the vanguard of going green. It has implemented a myriad of environmental policies, such as the Climate Action Plan 2050 to ensure a greener tomorrow. The plan’s objective is to eliminate nuclear energy from the nation by 2022 and to generate eighty percent of its energy from renewables by 2050.

When Angela Merkel became chancellor of Germany in 2005, her political party, the center-right Christian Democrats, still favored nuclear energy; however, when the Fukushima disaster occurred in 2011, Merkel promised to phase out nuclear power by 2022.

In light of that, prior to Fukushima, Germany had innovated numerous green technologies. The origins of green roofs began thousands of years ago. The most famous green roofs were the Hanging Gardens of Babylon; however, the modern green roof was developed in Germany in the 1960s. Green roofs are made up of a system of layers placed over the roof to support soil medium and vegetation.

Open roof of the glass cupola on top of the German Reichstag in Berlin, Germany

Germany’s proliferation of green roofs (which can be seen all over Berlin) and other green infrastructure has been supported by an intricate array of incentives and requirements at multiple levels of government. In Berlin, “18,368 (3%) out of a total of 604,865 buildings, including underground car parks without overlying buildings, have a greened roof areas or greened partial roof areas of > 10 m². In total, 400 ha of the roof areas are greened (3.9%),” according to the Senate Department for Urban Development and Housing. Notably, federal nature-protection laws and building codes require “compensation,” or restoration, for human destruction of natural landscapes and of environmental services in greenfield developments — that is, the development on previously undeveloped land.

In many cases, green infrastructure techniques can also be used to fulfill these requirements. German Federal laws also necessitate the creation of landscape plans. As a result, the German states have innovated a variety of methods to establish environmental protection, “many of which have involved elements that first incentivized and later required the creation and maintenance of green infrastructure” states the Solution Journal.

Sun reflecting off the glass dome on top of the German Bundestag in Berlin, Germany

Moreover, Germany is ambitiously planning to make all of its buildings carbon neutral by 2050. By 2030, the German nation aims to make all buildings sixty-seven percent more energy efficient, and eighty percent more so by 2050, states Rachel Stern of The Renewable Heat Act specifies that Germany will increase its renewable heating sources to fourteen percent by 2020. Although the Renewable Energies Heat Act applies only to new buildings, “it leaves room for the individual German States to enact policies addressing the existing building stock,” states the International Energy Agency. "Owners of certain categories of buildings must cover part of their heating and cooling supply with renewable energies."

Accordingly, there is one governmental building in the German capital that runs solely on renewable power already— that is, the Reichstag, or the German Bundestag. Germany’s Reichstag originally opened in 1894 as the German Parliament but was partially destroyed by a fire in 1933. It was somewhat restored in the 1960s but was then fully restored according to a rigorous environmental agenda set by The Bundestag and Federal Government of Germany by the acclaimed British architect, Norman Foster in 1999. As stated by Ana Lisa of inhabitat, “The Reichstag is a radical and perfect example of energy efficiency and power storage.”

360° mirror sculpture inside the glass cupola on top of the Berlin's Reichstag

The Reichstag Building and surrounding Bundestag structures were built with low-energy technology. At first glance, you will notice a glass cupola at the top of the Reichstag. At the center of the glass cupola, there is a cone-shaped light sculptor with 360 mirrors on it that funnel daylight in the plenary chamber, which is the heart of the Reichstag. This is where the final decisions are made, specifically on legislation, where the Chancellor is elected or removed from office, and it is considered the “forum of the nation,” where public issues are raised.  

Additionally, there is a heating recovery system that is concealed within the dome, which uses energy from the spent air rising from the plenary chamber to heat the building. And on the south-facing roof of the building, there are 3,229 square feet (300 square meters) of solar panels that serve as a clean source of electricity.

360° mirror light sculpture that funnels light into the plenary chamber of the Reichstag in Berlin, Germany

Up until 2015, Germany held the title of having the greenest Parliament of the world. It was beaten by Israel’s Knesset in Jerusalem, which has a 4,650-square-meter solar field that consists of 1,406 photovoltaic panels. These panels generate 450 kilowatts of energy, which is used as the Knesset’s sole source of electricity. Though the Reichstag does not wield an adjacent solar farm like the Knesset, its central combined heat and power plants (CHP) plants in the parliamentary chamber make it the heart of its environmental strategy. The CHP generators run on biodiesel produced from rapeseed or refined vegetable oil.

Correspondingly, the Reichstag abides by the trigeneration principle — that is, waste created by electricity generation is utilized to heat the parliament buildings. The plants generate about half of the electricity that is needed for the parliament buildings and meet all their heating and cooling requirements through this technology. With that said, unused waste can be used for cooling purposes in an absorption chiller or can be stored in summer in a layer of porous rock about 984 feet (300 meters) underground in the form of warm water, which then can be pumped up again in winter.

View on top of the German Reichstag showing Berlin's skyline and a single German flag flying

Furthermore, the Reichstag has an enormous sun shield that tracks the movement of the sun electronically to block direct sunlight, which may cause excess heat. The restored Reichstag boasts a 94% reduction of carbon dioxide emissions because of its strict environmental blueprint. According to Foster’s website, the transformation focused on 4 issues: “The significance of the Bundestag as a democratic forum, a commitment to public accessibility, a sensitivity to history and a rigorous environmental agenda.”

All major German parties across the political spectrum support an industrial transformation toward a low-carbon economy. There is a strong consensus concerning the need to address climate change among constituent groups from both the progressive and conservative sides. The understanding is that strong environmental policies drive ecological modernization and create new market opportunities. That said, since Germany is an export-oriented country it aims to sell the solutions to a carbon-constrained and high-energy-priced world. Tourists swarming the green lawns in front of the German Bundestag in Berlin, Germany

In contrast, the United States is not a green leader like Germany. The U.S straggles behind other nations, like Germany and Israel, when it comes to moving towards a low-carbon economy because there is a multitude of political debates over climate-change-related policy actions, which inhibit progress. “As long as the public perceives a trade-off between environmental regulation and industrial competitiveness, it will be extremely difficult for the United States to fundamentally turn toward a low-carbon economy,” asserts the Solution Journal.

Ultimately, Germany Chancellor Angela Merkel said the nuclear power phase-out would give Germany a competitive advantage in the renewable energy era, stating, "As the first big industrialized nation, we can achieve such a transformation toward efficient and renewable energies, with all the opportunities that brings for exports, developing new technologies and jobs.” The German Reichstag is located at the northeast end of the Tiergarten Park and can be accessed free of charge if booked three days in advance.

What kinds of green infrastructures does your city have? Does your city utilize low-energy technology to power its buildings? Share your thoughts and your city’s stories in the comments area below.

Credits: Images by Brittany Garcia. Data linked to sources.

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Urban Planning Blogger

Brittany is a Berlin-based graduate student with a penchant for environmental sustainability and urban planning. Her research focus centers on how urban agriculture revitalizes local economies. Follow her to discover why Germany's capital is a gritty...

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