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PPRE Excursion 2016

by Aldo Leon, Mexico (PPRE 2015/17)

On the week from July 18th to July 24th 2016, we PPRE 15/17 students along with two PPRE teachers embarked on an adventure that took us to different locations within Germany with the sole purpose of seeing real-life applications of different types of renewable energies and with that, expand the knowledge acquired in the classrooms and labs. Biogas, energy storage, inverters for solar applications and meteorology were some of the topics covered on the locations we visited during this trip, some new places, some with history, some really new and some with a LOT of history (I will get to that). This is a recap of what happened on the PPRE final excursion 2016.

Monday

We got up early and rode bike, bus or walked to get to our meeting point in the Wechloy campus to get in the bus and hit the road, first stop Jühnde Bioenergy Village, Germany´s first village to produce heat and electricity by means of renewable biomass. When we got there we got an explanation of how this sustainable village produces electricity from a block type thermal power station that runs with biogas, which is produced in the fermenter, the electricity is fed into the grid and they get it back through the utility company. This is done to have stability, but the generated heat goes directly into the village heating grid. One impressive thing is the story of the support and commitment of the inhabitants to reduce their fossil fuel consumption which was a huge part of how this village came to be. After the nice talk they showed us the wood chip burning boiler and the anaerobic digester which stands at 6 meters high and has a diameter of 24 meters. This is an area where you have to watch out not to take deep breaths around (a mistake I clearly made). The short tour was pretty insightful. After that we hopped on the bus again and off we went to the city of Kassel where we reached our base camp (hostel) and then met with Amit, one of our EUREC friends who happens to be doing his thesis there so we all got together and walked around the city.

Tuesday

From base camp we started our journey to Brilon, while on the bus we got a great introduction from Adnan to the company that we would be visiting: Hoppecke. Hoppecke was once a small family company that started producing batteries in 1927 and developed over the years to a big company that manufactures different types of batteries and recycles the lead used in some of them and even grew to having more than two factories in Germany and even one in China. When we arrived we were greeted by Ulrich Preuss, from the international sales division who quickly prompted us to wear protective coats and helmets to start the tour through the factory. He took us to see the different steps and processes of the battery manufacturing and also showed us how they are implementing robotics as well. After the tour he gave us a presentation about the company and the projects that they are involved in and even gave us a little exercise of battery sizing.

Back at base camp we had our dinner and later on spent the evening on a park near the hostel, some trying with the slack line that Yasmini brought and some playing ping pong in which we made a mistake by saying that the winner kept on playing because Andreas Günther pretty much mopped the floor with every contender that tried to defeat him, we had fun though.

Wednesday

We got up early to leave base camp to reach SMA Solar Technology, a big player in photovoltaic system technology, storage and decentralized smart systems. When it comes to inverters, they are the big name. We visited the headquarters which are located in Niestetal (literally a block away from Kassel) and got an overall introduction to their catalogue of products. Then we crossed the highway to visit the plant, where the inverters are manufactured. This plant is equipped with many solar panels and a sustainable design making it a CO2 neutral building. This factory is pretty noticeable on the highway when you are arriving to Kassel. To wrap up the visit we got a talk about two projects that SMA undertook on a Caribbean island and on a secluded part of Bolivia. Though it was just a half-day visit, the takeaway was big and interesting.

Since we still had most of the day to spend, as a group we decided to go to the Hercules monument. It is a landmark of the city of Kassel and we took advantage of the waterworks that take place there on Wednesdays. I didn´t know what to expect but it was pretty fun and interesting to see the monument and all the people visiting. As for the waterworks, water starts pouring all the way from the top of the landmark and we walked all the way down stopping on different points where the water flows and culminating in a geyser-like fountain. After that we spent some time relaxing and then walking back to base camp to enjoy the last night in Kassel.

Thursday

The next base camp would be in Wernigerode as we would be hiking up to the mountain on Friday. But taking advantage that it was on the way, we made a stop at the DITSL (German Institute for Tropical and Subtropical Agriculture) in Witzenhausen. This institute was the first to teach organic agriculture. We first went into their greenhouse where we saw all kinds of different plants and some people started to get homesick while recognizing plants from their region. They showed us around the subtropical and tropical areas that are managed on the greenhouse and then we got an insight of the DITSL and how it was formed and kept to this day. After lunch we went into a classroom to get a presentation about the techniques of agriculture that they employ and they gave us some leaves to prepare our own tea (100% organic grown from the institute). Then came a talk from a former doctorate student from the institute who told us about the projects he undertook while completing his PhD. The work included, among others, a solar dryer for food and a concave mirror that used solar power to obtain oils. He is currently implementing these projects and others in Pakistan.

After the stop in Witzenhausen, we arrived at base camp # 2 (second hostel) which was a music-themed hostel where bands make summer camps. In the mood for that, me and Raúl pulled out the guitars and we all sang some songs for fun and even tried to sing Bohemian Rhapsody (different voices and all). Not the best performance maybe, but a lot of fun.

Friday

From base camp 2 we headed to the Brocken Mountain in 3 different teams. Team 1 decided to take up on a challenge and walk more than the rest by starting a little lower on the mountain while team 2 took the bus to the town Schierke, before going up the mountain while the third team just slept a little longer and met everyone there at the hour we needed to start to reach the top of the Brocken. The goal was to reach the top in time for a meeting in the meteorological station that lays there. After starting with some troubles to find the road, we finally got on our way and started to conquer the mountain. We stopped a little to have a nice lunch together and then kept on going, some did it fast, some at a steady pace but everyone made it to the top without having to rely on the train to reach the top - so we call that a win. Once on the top we all took a picture there to remember we made it together. In the meteo station we got an explanation of how they track the weather in the Brocken and got to see the equipment at the top. After being in awe for seeing a considerable amount of pictures, plush toys, ceramic and whatnot of frogs, we got a fun explanation about how the people that are dedicated to meteorology are called “Wetterfrosch” (weather frogs). After the hiking and meteorology knowledge vested upon us, we jumped in the train that took us down the mountain where some headed back to base camp 2 and others stayed at a blues concert in Schierke.

Saturday

Last stop of the excursion was the Oberharzer Wasserregal where we visited one of the oldest mines from Germany (Samson Mine) that dates from the 16th century. Here we learned about the life of the miners and the early engineering of the mining and energy production with water. We even learned that they were the inventors of the steel wire but sadly they never patented it and lost a business opportunity. As we went down to the mine and got to see a huge watermill that still works up to this day. After getting out from the mine, we visited the water management which is now a UNESCO heritage site. It shows how, even back in the day, the water management from this ponds and ditches still works to this day. After ending the explanations we walked a couple of kilometers and treated ourselves with a coffee and a “Windbeutel” in a restaurant in the middle of the road. After that we headed back to base camp 2 for a much deserved rest.

Ok, some of us didn´t rest and we ended the evening by visiting the town of Wernigerode and stopping at a brewery that happened to have a dancefloor. So we enjoyed the night with some beers and taking over the dancefloor, closing the activities of the excursion.

Sunday

We packed our stuff and headed home, Andreas left before us for a much needed vacation after he put up with us and all the selfies and we left Robin somewhere in Hannover so he too could take a vacation. This left us with Januarius speaking to the bus driver and convincing him to make a stop at the train station and another at the Wechloy campus which he conceded.

All in all it was a good week of traveling and learning, we also shared more as a group since now we didn´t have the stress from exams or labs or deadlines. The outcome was positive and we will see what comes for the excursion the next year, I hope the new students will enjoy it. Special thanks to Robin Knecht and Andreas Günther for organizing and coordinating.

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