How the city of Bottrop is turning its back on coal

German city transitioning from a coal and steel center into an innovation hub

December 21st, 2018, Bottrop, Germany: An era comes to an end, with the extraction of the last piece of coal from the Prosper coal mine – active for more than 150 years and one of Germany´s last hard coal mine.

The former coal and steel city Bottrop is leading by example, showing how to transform this big change into an opportunity. With the Innovation-City Ruhr: Modellstadt Bottrop Project, funded by the European Regional Development Fund and the State of North Rhine-Westphalia, the city is experimenting on how to best transition to an innovative hub. Several cities are already copying Bottrop´s blueprint: a new governance structure based on a partnership between business, city, science, and citizens, but also on energy innovation.

Already since 2009, Bottrop has been working on its energy-efficient refurbishments. The Innovation-City Ruhr: Modellstadt Bottrop project has almost halved the CO2 emissions of the industrial city during this period thanks to a climate-friendly renovation. The project´s masterplan laid out about 300 measures of how to reduce the city´s emissions. 
Time to take a look at the lessons learnt.

1. Keep it local. The plans to directly couple Prosper with the district heating network in order to use the hot water of the coke plant became obsolete when the global corporation Arcelor Mittal bought the coking plant. According to chief planner of Bottrop´s urban development, Burkhard Drescher, all negotiations had been lost in the maze of Bottrop to New Delhi. “They just don’t care”, complained Drescher. Big companies have their own strategies that mainly focus on immediate cost reductions, which has nothing to do with sustainable, long-term planning. In contrast, the negotiations with the Essen -based company Trimet – owner of the Aluminum plant – were much easier. They are now providing its heat surplus for the local district heating network.

2. Social measures and simplicity are key. The initiative “socially acceptable climate protection”, driven by Initiativkreis Ruhr, an association of universities, churches and companies from the region, aims at promoting climate protection in a socially responsible manner and, if possible, in an industry-friendly way. They achieved considerable savings in housing renovations costs and the city managed to halve its CO2 emissions in just eight years compared to 2010. Sometimes a small intervention can drastically improve insulation. That is why Innovation City consultants recommend only the most cost-effective option to homeowners, motivating them to act. Recently, the project managed to completely renovate a whole district, the Eltingsiedlung, where nine out of ten tenants are pensioners or welfare recipients. Innovation City therefore urged the housing association, Vonovia, to refrain from expensive exterior insulation, and elevators: such measure would have implied a considerable increase of the rent. Instead, night storage heaters were replaced by new heating, new windows and basic insulation. The rent increase was so small (one euro per square meter) that the residents were fine with it. The buildings are not state-of-the-art, but they consume significantly less energy than before. The project turned out to be a major success: 70,000 out of 120,000 citizens are involved in the experiment and were offered free energy advice. As a result, the refurbishment rate in Bottrop exceeds three percent, more than double than in the rest of Germany. Other housing associations are ready to follow this example.

3. Show you are serious and be persistent. Unfortunately, businesses are more reluctant to cooperate and change to reduce their climate footprint. Despite the benefits for all parties, companies tend to reject cooperation because they are afraid of becoming too dependent. An important part of the climate concept in Bottrop is therefore to approach the companies again and again, to work out individual concepts and to point out the savings potential. However, energy costs are irrelevant for many companies as energy is too cheap. Due to the persistence of the Innovation-City staff, however, medium-sized companies in particular have decided to implement energy-saving measures.

Thanks to Innovation-City measures, by 2020, the city will achieve about 37% CO2 reductions. The project managers, however, want to reach 50%, and just started a photovoltaic campaign with support from the city. In addition, the sewage treatment plant will be improved: it should also produce electricity and heat through burning sewage gas and sewage sludge and also dry the sewage sludge with solar energy. In April or May, we will know better whether Bottrop is on target course in terms of halving its CO2 emissions.

If you want to know more about the project, have a look at last year´s webinar, in which Bernd Tischler, the Lord Mayor of Bottrop since 2009, describes the transition of his city.

To know more:
Innovation City Ruhr

©photos: Prosper_haniel_Goseteufel CC BY-SA 3.0 – Arnoldius_CC BY-SA 3.0


Publication date

March 7, 2019