Solar power wall in Germany generates electricity and keeps the peace

A solar power wall in a German town on the Rhine River doubles as a sound barrier protecting a neighborhood from the noise from a nearby highway.

Isabelle de Pommereau
A solar noise barrier in Bürstadt, Germany.

• A local, slice-of-life story from a Monitor correspondent.

The town on the Rhine River in the shadow of Germany’s oldest nuclear plant, Biblis, calls itself Sunny Town. A flowery roundabout flanked by a huge solar panel greets visitors. Not long ago, the town won a gold medal among German municipalities for its solar projects.

Following breakthrough financial incentives in the early 2000s to encourage people to produce electricity and resell it at a fixed price, Bürstadt set up what was then the world’s largest photovoltaic park on the 484,375-square-foot roof of a shipping company.

And now, the town has again broken new ground. When Bürstadt built a neighborhood on its outskirts it also installed a noise barrier to protect residents from the traffic noise of the nearby highway. That in itself wasn’t anything special. But where the “noise wall” differs from most around the world, however, is that it is a photovoltaic facility, donned with an array of 1,620 solar cells spread on the 440-yard length of the wall. Tied with the local grid, the solar noise barrier produces 250,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity every year, enough to meet the needs of the 80-house neighborhood, dubbed Sonneneck, or Sunny Corner. Over the next 30 years, the noise barrier is expected to generate more than 8 million kWh.

“We live even closer to one another and ... we need more noise protection,” says Erhard Renz, who had the idea for the solar noise barrier. The solar company he works for had eight employees in 2001 – it now has over 140.

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