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Postgraduate Programme Renewable Energy 2018 Excursion

by Tarikua, Ruma, Ifeoma (PPRE 2017/19)

corresponding author Tarikua: tarikua.mekashaw.zenebe(at)uni-oldenburg.de

Postgraduate Programme Renewable Energy (PPRE) is a four-semester master program on Renewable Energy at the University of Oldenburg, Germany. Starting in 1987, the Postgraduate Programme Renewable Energy (PPRE) has since then graduated more than 400 participants from over 79 countries in 25 years. The program is for students who hold a bachelor’s degree in engineering or science with some professional experience in the field of energy. The aim of the program is to educate the students on the theory and applications of renewable energy systems, test their skills in labs and outdoor experiments, visit companies and sites, and do an external training in industry or research institutes. The program is completed with a thesis project.

The PPRE Excursion with 3 Credit Points (CP) (90 hours student’s workload) is part of the Renewable Energy Project module. The Renewable Energy Project module concludes the lessons learned from the first and second semester in the Case Study (6 CP) while the Excursion links the theoretical knowledge with the technical one. The excursion 2018 (PPRE batch 2017-2019) started on Sunday, July 8th and ended on Thursday July 19th, 2018.

The Excursion’s adventure began with an exciting hike with everyone being well equipped with complete hiking equipment (such as rucksack, hiking shoes, polyester socks, hats, water bottle etc.). We started hiking from Schierke in Harz, a mountainous area in Northern Germany to the meteorological DWD (Deutscher Wetter Dienst, German Meteorological Service) weather station at Brocken, Harz. The Mt. Brocken in the Harz is at 1,141 m above sea level, the highest peak in northern Germany. The surrounding mountains have a 200m lower altitude. The "weather kitchen" of Central Europe is the Atlantic Ocean. Harz with its peak Brocken is the first mountainous area in the west of the Atlantic Ocean’s coast in the Northern Europe, greatly influenced by humid air coming from the Atlantic Ocean with approximately 300 days of fog per year observed at Brocken. The climate conditions on the Mt. Brocken correspond with a mean annual temperature of 2.9°C and a mean precipitation height of 1,814mm, approximately at an altitude of 2,000 to 2,200m in the Alps and the climate of Iceland. Visitors are rewarded with a breathtaking panorama surrounded by good weather. You can see mountains that are up to 230km away. If the view extends, all-encompassing into the country, then from Brocken summit, an area can be seen, which corresponds with approximately 42,000km² the size of Switzerland.

The hike took about 2½ hours. Though the hiking was fun, it was at the same time tough for the students who have little or no experience in hiking. At every interval of time, we had a rest of about 15 minutes to assist students who are inexperienced in hiking. Luckily, the weather was on our side so that the students enjoyed sunny weather at Brocken. However, the students were not carried away with the fun of the excursion but were curious in learning about professional meteorological data acquisition (such as temperature, precipitation, radiation, wind speed, fog etc.) by a governmental meteorological service. Especially interested were the foreign students in the numerous frogs spread over the shelves of the DWD meteorology. The story behind these frogs is that the frog is the symbol of meteorological observation in Germany. Amidst all the fun, the students did not forget that we have not hiked down the mountain again. It was everyone's wish for the train to carry us down the mountain but unfortunately, the students decided to save their money, as a train ticket is rather too expensive.

Our 2nd company visit was an ancient silver mine, the Grube Samson in Sankt Andreasberg. It is one of the most important mining monuments in Europe. Grube Samson was one of the deepest mines in the world for a long time and therefore many problems had to be solved by technical innovations. Since 2010, the Grube Samson Pit as part of the Upper Harz Water Management belongs to the UNESCO World Heritage “Mines of Rammelsberg, Old Town of Goslar and Upper Harz Water Management”. This system of ponds, ditches, mines and galleries is also known as the "Upper Harz Water Regale" and is one of the largest pre-industrial energy systems in the world. The water was used to turn water wheels to drive pumps, to move ore tons and to transport the miners. Two of the most impressive constructions of Grube Samson are the two water wheels, the 9 m high extraction wheel from 1820 and the 12 m high water wheel, of which the latter was powered by water during the tour as it was centuries ago. The “Fahrkunst”, a mechanical ladder, was developed in the Upper Harz to carry workers up and down the mine. Today the world’s last original mechanical ladder from 1837 is still in use at Grube Samson. Technicians are brought down the shaft with this unique machine to maintain turbines that still today provide renewable energy for Sankt Andreasberg.

Our 3rd company visit was a biogas plant at Bio-Energy Village, Jühnde located in the central part of Germany. This is Germany’s first bio-energy village that independently supplies heat and electricity through biomass with the aim of protecting the climate, strengthening the community as well as the region of the village. It was exciting for the students to also learn how a biogas plant operates which is by feeding in the silage/slurry from biomass into the fermenter for the digestion of the silage/slurry. The fermenter is connected to an Ultrasonic plant for more effective treatment of the digestate for the biogas production. The gas is fed into a cogeneration unit supplying heat and electricity. Two of the three cogeneration units are combined with an Organic Rankine Cycle 120 kWel (ORC). This is a steam cycle which uses heat (exhaust heat of the motor) to generate electricity.

The 4th company visit was a battery manufacturer, called Hoppecke Batterien GmbH & Co.KG, located in Brilon, Germany. Hoppecke is the largest manufacturer of industrial batteries in European ownership. The business units, the company is focused on, is the supply of secure power solutions for trac (traction), rail, grid and sun (renewable) applications. From batteries to complete energy storage systems, Hoppecke offers emergency power to protect industry and infrastructure. It was amazing for the students to learn that it is also the only battery manufacturing company that includes battery recycling (only lead acid) in Germany as part of its production process. The hospitality bestowed upon us also knew no bounds.

Next, was our visit to the Fraunhofer Institute for Environmental, Safety, and Energy Technology UMSICHT, located in Oberhausen, Germany whose aim is to advance sustainable economies, create environmentally friendly technologies and innovative approaches. At UMSICHT, we received well-structured and organized presentations by three PhD students with a long interactive session of possible research topics available for internships and theses for the PPRE students. The visit ended with extensive conversation with the PhD students for possible internship positions.

The 6th company visit was KfW (Kreditanstalt für Wiederaufbau) which is one of the world’s largest promotional banks (in 2017 alone KfW invested EUR 76.5 billion, thereof 43% was spent on measures aimed at protecting the climate and the environment). Since 1948, KfW has been committed to improving economic, social and ecological living conditions in Germany and all around the world, including project financing and development in developing and emerging economies in international financial cooperation. The core issues behind the funding criteria and success of a project were discussed while having a communication with the students there.

The last company visit for the week was at GIZ (Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH), with over 50 years of experience in economic development, in the field of energy, environment, peace and security with businesses, civil society actors and research institutions, fostering successful interaction between development policy and other areas of activity mainly commissioned by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ). With around 19,506 employees, GIZ generates a business volume of around 2.6 billion Euros working in around 120 countries. They elaborated on their energy project work with the students through three separate presentations on ProKlima, Endev and GetPro.

This set of company visits was followed by leisure activities during the weekend at Heidelberg and Munich. There is an adage that says, “All work and no play, makes jack a dull boy”. The leisure activities were accompanied with sightseeing and watching the final world championship football match.

The 8th as well as the last company visit was at SFC Energy AG, located in Brunnthal/München, Germany. SFC Energy is a global leader in mobile and off-grid power solutions for the Clean Energy & Mobility, Defense & Security, Oil & Gas and Industrial markets. SFC is the number one supplier of fuel cells, with over 40,000 fuel cells sold to date. On our arrival, we were politely and affectionately welcomed with Bavarian “Brezn”. This was followed by a concise and knowledgeable presentation by Mr. Stephan Laistner on the company’s history and their job. We were taken to the showroom where the fuel cell hybrid system application, defense and industrial applications are integrated. Finally, we got to see a test lab where the integrated and invented fuel cell is tested before being taken to the production room for fabrication and assembling. It is striking also for the students that the whole fabricating and assembly process of one unit is done pretty fast. The visit ended with a wrap-up discussion and a lunch treat by the company.

Finally, here comes the almighty hiking to Brunnsteinhütte (1,560 m above sea level) which for most students was another exciting hiking experience. A few others with little experience wished that the day never came. Everyone was prepared and full of energy at first but our strength gradually dropped as we climbed higher. All the students cooperatively hiked together watching one another's back. Few students who get easily tired were assisted with their rucksack and repeatedly cheered to in order to keep the spirit moving. It was a big relief and so much joy when we made it to Brunnsteinhütte, having climbed 1,560 m above sea level.

The Brunnsteinhütte is located in the region of the mountains called Westliches Karwendelgebirge in Southern Germany and managed by the hut keepers, Mr. Hans-Peter and Mrs. Barbara Gallenberger. The students were impressed by the diligence of the hut keepers about the risks they have to take in transporting the food for hosting the guests and also the cleaning of the snow on top of the PV generator during the winter. Also, the efficient integration of all the available renewable energy sources (such as hydro & solar) and as well as the deployment of waste and water management system in running the hut in order to economize the usage of energy, are signs of the hut keepers diligence, effectiveness and persistence in their work. We also observed that they were less interested in the income they get in running the hut but rather in their service to humanity by ensuring that the hut does not shut down. Our stay at Brunnsteinhutte made us appreciate the value of what we have and the comfortable life that we enjoy even more. The memories of not taking our baths for two consecutive days at the Brunnsteinhütte will remain evergreen in our hearts, as this is an experience that no one would like to encounter again. However, it kept the students wondering how the hut keepers and their family survive under little water. Finally, the excursion ended with a climb down from the mountain which was a huge achievement for us.

In conclusion, apart from the technical knowledge and the vivid image about future opportunities in the renewable energy sector that we have acquired, the excursion also shows us the additional reasons behind a company's success which are social acceptance, continuous innovation etc. The excursion was also an opportunity for the students to establish solidarity amongst themselves and with the supervisors. It was also an opportunity for the students to have a clearer vision about the companies’ jobs as well as about internship opportunities available in these companies.

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