The community of Murtal consists of 72 municipalities and its surface is extended over an area of 3.059 km2. The population of Murtal is 107.000 and has a demographic density of 36 inhabitants/km2. In the region there has been long tradition and experience in using renewable energy, which resulted in the development of various best practices examples. However, the exploitable potential of RES in the region is quite higher. Towards this direction, the energy vision of Murau includes 100% self sufficiency until 2015 (room heating and electricity), a target that is going to be achieved through a bottom up approach by the local energy actors.
As it concerns the renewable energy sources in the region, biomass for heating is the most important one, considering the fact that Murtal is a rural district and there is gas network in the cities. In total, biomass delivers about 49 % of the energy required for heating purposes, a share of biomass on the energy consumption that is higher than the average in Austria. Other RES applications in the region include small scale hydropower plants, solar systems used for water heating in private houses and dwellings, as well as wind energy farms.
Heat from biomass is in strong competition with natural gas. The fossil fuel used to be preferred, when people are not aware of RES benefits. Especially in the areas of high population density, namely the cities Judenburg Knittelfeld and Zeltweg that have a natural gas network, the rate of houses supplied by it is high. However, there is already a district heating plant in Zeltweg operating for six months and similar facility is planned in Judenburg as well. Targeted dissemination about the advantages of wood pellets and district heating towards natural gas in terms of reliability, price stability and crisis-proof supply could make the difference for many potential customers.
The rural areas and side valleys and district Murau as well, are off the gas grid. The realization of the full potential of biomass is hindered there by prejudices. Potential customers are discouraged by presumed high investment costs. Awareness campaigns and new business models like leasing and contracting can be a solution for those problems. New technologies and additional capacities for wood pellets production, storage and delivery can be realized with the appropriate financing via contracting. New costumers on the other side may cushion the financial burden by leasing their new biomass heating system. In that case, all costs, inclusive pellets supply, are accounted for in monthly rates over several years. The supplier has the advantage to deliver any time, avoiding seasonal peaks, and the customer can enjoy the energy service without having to cover the installation costs all at once.
The realization and local integration of RES and RUE projects can be a complex issue. Sometimes, investors lack the appropriate expert knowledge required for implementation. The Energieagentur Obersteiermark, EAO, (Energy Agency Upper Styria) provides with its consulting service in many cases the necessary input for successful installation and operation of projects in RES and RUE.
After the expiration of the Green Electricity Act (2002) in the end of 2004, investors in small- and medium-sized companies (SME)producing renewable electricity had to face much less favorable conditions. Many projects have been put aside for a later time. There is no shortage of project ideas to tap the full potential of biomass in the region, but appropriate legal framework conditions are required to run green electricity law that adapts the fixed feed-in tariffs and their running guarantee the price stability required to operate a project economically sustainable. This has to be complemented with a fixed running time that ensures investment security over an appropriate interval.
Although the region’s energy potential is highly utilized, the possibilities for further growth of the region’s RES market still remains high. The development of an energy plan of the region based on RES/RUE applications will facilitate this growth by providing local actors and stakeholders the appropriate strategy. Finally, the improvement of the distribution and logistics of biomass, of the business models for the installation of biomass heating systems by local farmers or companies, as well as the promotion of alternative crops, such as energy crops, constitute the main priorities of the community of Murtal.
The local farmers produce fire wood and wood chips on their own. The market is well developed as a good way to cultivate saw mill residue in a high-grade product and overall increases the value of timber in the region. The local timber industry further prolongs the added-value chain by wood pellets production. Farmers also build own logistic centres for selling and delivering wood chips and act as contractors by operating biomass district heating stations to supply private customers and municipalities with heat from biomass.
The total energy generated by wooden biomass in the target region adds up to 304.844 MWh (= 1,097.437 GJ, = 26.217 toe). This includes the performance of two CHP Biomass Plants and 1.424 individual installations with a capacity of less than 50 kW that have been built since 2001. With an average energy content of 4.000 kWh per ton of wood, about 76.211 tons are needed to produce the total energy output. All RES combined generate about 950.000 MWh. However, considerable energy savings, about 400.000 tons of fuel wood would be required to cover the heat demand of the region by wooden biomass alone. The three districts Judenburg, Knittelfeld and Murau combined add up to a forest area of 1.900 km2. Sustainable forestry yields in a spruce wood a potential of 12,6 tons dry wood per hectare. Ten percent of that amount can by experience be considered left in the wood area. Seventy percent of the rest are used for building and construction purposes. The remaining 30% are available to be used for energy generation, so that 3,4 t/ha of sustainable yield account for fuel wood in the end. However, only 2,1 t/ha would be required to cover total heat demand of the region.
Biogas plants may utilize their product for several different purposes. The gas can be burned for heat, transformed into electricity or directly fed into the gas grid. However, the low feed-in tariffs for green electricity increase the dependency of biogas facilities on specific circumstances like advantages of site and synergetic effects that allow the operator to run the facility for heat or gas supply.
Even though there are good conditions for wind power in alpine locations, with pioneer projects proving its viability, the development has been put to a halt. The construction requires a lot of effort. The low interconnect capacitance in the respective areas makes the laying of long power cables over difficult terrain necessary. Furthermore, it is regarded as imperative to negotiate the possible opposition of various interest groups for landscape, wildlife or environment protection.
The feed-in tariff for hydro power plants is already near the actual value. Yet, new installations are restricted to reconstruction and small- and medium-sized facilities. The reason lies in the high standard of environmental regulations and the already high level of development of water power.