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Güssing, Austria

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Güssing, Austria, a town entirely powered by renewable energy

Güssing, Austria, a town entirely powered by renewable energy

In a previous post I mentioned that folks from Université Sainte-Anne went to Güssing, in Austria, for inspiration. They needed a way to drastically cut down on their energy expenses. But why Güssing?

The town in eastern Austria had fallen on hard times in the 80s. Unemployment was high, the main industry agriculture, and kids were leaving looking for work. Energy costs were very high, a drain on the town’s finances.

This was when city hall started on an energy efficiency campaign, insulating, changing light bulbs, etc, in all public buildings and was soon saving 50% on its utility bill. The town then decided to eliminate the use of fossil fuels in all public buildings, in order to keep more money in the local economy.

What city hall was thinking...

What city hall was thinking…

Meanwhile, some residents decided to use the abundant wood residue from the nearby forest to create a modest district heating system (6 homes only!). But this small scale project turned out to be very successful and was copied all over town, to the extent that by 1996 the whole town was on wood-fuelled district heating on a system that was also generating electricity.

In 2001 the federal government helped fund a wood gasification CHP system, which produces 2 MW of electricty as well as 4.5 MW of heating power. The town is not only self-sufficient in energy, it is a net exporter. Meanwhile, all the biomass is harvested sustainably from a radius of 10 km around the town, leaving the forest in great shape.

Of course, you can’t be that successful without people noticing. There are plans to adopt this model for whole area around Güssing. Meanwhile, scientists and politicians of all stripes, including Arnold Schwartzenegger, have visited and praised the town; and local businesses thrive on a uniquely European new category of visitors, the eco-tourists.

The biomass gasification combined-heat-and-power plant

The biomass gasification combined-heat-and-power plant

Güssing now sells its expertise all over the world, including to with offices from Bangkok to, of all places, Victoria, BC. That’s why Université Sainte-Anne paid a visit.

Güssing’s young folks no longer leave town looking for work; the town has a thriving business community. This is a remarkable example of pulling yourself by your bootstraps – but let’s remember that the Austrian federal government stepped in with a grant at a critical moment. This is how you nurture innovation, and it could well be a model for small towns in BC’s interior, as well. It might need a bit of federal government help – is it so much to ask?

Here’s a nice little documentary about how the town re-invented itself.  Pretty inspiring!




Written by enviropaul

December 8, 2014 at 7:27 pm

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