Page 4606 - Week 12 - Thursday, 15 October 2009

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These are the features, along with the benchmarks, policies and programs the city has developed, that led my department to include it on the itinerary for my visit. Freiburg has consciously adopted a strategy built around accommodating what they describe as soft ecology and hard economy. Environment polices, solar engineering, sustainability and climate protection concepts have become the mainstays of economic, political and urban development, and the Freiburg community has strongly identified with this.

In Freiburg, the economy based on environmental policies has resulted in about 10,000 people employed by 1,500 companies and this sector contributes approximately €500 million to the city’s economy. In the solar sector alone, direct employment is about 700 people, which is four to five times above the national average of Germany.

Centres of private and public research investigating renewable energy sources, such as the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy, function as centres for research excellence, on which hundreds of spin-off companies, service providers and organisations are based.

In my discussions with Freiburg’s Mayor, Dr Dieter Salomon, I was advised that more and more new value chains are being created, from basic research to technology-based transfers and global marketing. The environmental economy is the leading business sector in both town and region.

The city sets very high standards in energy efficiency for new homes—higher than the national standards for Germany—and has a range of other benchmark policies and legislation. For example, rather than an automatic connection to the power grid, all new developments are obliged to review the energy options available and the variant most compatible with the environment is then mandatory, provided it can be realised with the same or a reasonable higher cost—no more than 10 per cent.

In its newest residential developments, such as the Vauban Quarter, which I was fortunate to visit, low-energy building is obligatory and, in fact, zero-energy and energy-plus buildings, where the residence not only covers its own energy needs but is able to export energy back into the grid, are common.

The neighbourhood area is traffic-calmed with the majority of households not owning a car. Private motor vehicles are parked in one of two multi-storey car parks on the outskirts of the quarter within easy walking distance of all the residences. Developments such as the Vauban Quarter do serve as a model for future urban intensification here in Canberra.

I do not mean to imply that the Freiburg blueprint is one that can simply be lifted up and laid over Canberra. But here is a real world example of a city that shares many features with our own and is widely regarded across the world as a benchmark in sustainability and uptake of solar energy. We have much to learn from this beautiful little city and I intend to exploit the relationships I established there to inform and further inspire our policy development.

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