We’ve arrived to our fourth and final week in Darmstadt. We still had three days on campus, with academic and German courses. Even if we finished the modules of Energy Efficiency and Smart Infrastructures, we still had classes that were considered as a complement to our courses, such as Energy Economics and Light Architecture.
We started the day with a lecture on energy economics. We already had Professor Sebastian Herold on our Energy Distribution lecture earlier in the programme, but his real core study is Energy Economics. The purpose of this class was to make us aware of all the economics mechanics behind the Energiewende. Certainly, most of the challenges in the deployment of Energiewende are technical, but they also include economical and political ones.
After a short introduction on the power markets, which are mostly unknown to a large part of the public, we set off to understand the impact of renewable energies on the energy prices. The issue is that in order to develop renewable energies, governments have to subsidize them, and the funds come from taxes in our electricity and gas bills. At the same time, the production of electricity through renewable sources is not regular, which means that we need backup sources that can instantly satisfy the need of energy (such as fossil fuels). Surprise, the marginal cost of fossil fuels is very high compared to that of renewable energies! Therefore, governments have to invest more money than expected, which increases the taxes. And the loop is thus closed.
This was better explained with an exercise. Professor Herold handed in an article from The Economist, that detailed this “death spiral”. We analysed it in groups of four and then discussed the article all together following some guide questions. As a final conclusion of this lecture, we realised that in order to change things for the best, we have to suggest solutions not only from a technical point of view, but also from an economical point of view. And thus, collaboration between different background professionals is necessary in order to change things.
On a lighter note, in the evening, the ISU team had organised for us a German movie night, which was part of the German course, at the cinema of Luisenplatz. When we arrived there, we found out that Jessica had actually booked the entire cinema room for us, meaning that she bought 80 tickets so that we could have the room all to ourselves! We were also given pop corn and soda, all for free!
We watched Willkommen bei den Hartmann (Welcome to the Hartmann’s), a German comedy about a Nigerian refugee who is taken in by a German family and tries to adapt to a German lifestyle while waiting for the results of his political asylum petition.
We laughed a lot with some of the scenes from the film’s SPOILER ALERT like when Basti did his rap music clip with the help of Diallo, or after the huge party organised by the friend of Angelika. There were also heart-touching moments, such as the presentation that Basti did on Boko-Haram, the reason why Diallo fled to Germany, or when Sofie comes across his father at the club and leaves after realising that he has been cheating on her mother.
This film is definitely one of the ways to get to know a culture better. It shows also one of the ways to address societal issues, such as immigration. In Europe, this is one of the topics that divides the more our society and, through humour, this film tries to make people reflect on the question of “What is actually that makes us feel Germans?”.
In the morning, we met with Ahmad, who took us to the Landesmuseum for a presentation that we would have on Architecture. Our lecturer showed us some insights in light architecture. This concerns the use of light in order to create different spaces and atmospheres, without changing the infrastructure. Just with a different layout of light sources or different light colours, a space can appear bigger or smaller, and objects inside this space can convey different feelings.
We visited then some of the rooms of the Landesmuseum, where we could appreciate the different functions of lightning according to the topic of the room. The exhibition on zoology, for example, used light in a different way than the exhibition on renaissance paintings.
Finally, we ended our visit with a tour at the Rosetta exhibition. And, just in case you didn’t know, Darmstadt is where the European Space Agency and the European Space Operations Centre are! They directed and monitored the three phases of the mission: the launching of the Ariane 5 rocket, the trip of the Rosetta space craft through the space, and the landing of the Philae module on a comet. We saw a really innovative presentation that summarised this mission, we actually laid down the floor on bean bags and watched this presentation projected all over the ceiling above us. It was truly mind-blowing!
We actually spent all of our tuesday evening preparing our German presentation (don’t judge us, it’s the fault of procrastination…). The class of beginners in German had the choice between preparing a short presentation introducing themselves and their country of origin or doing a short conversation in pairs. The other four who had foundations in German, Alex, Sheyna, Rahman and Ana, had to prepare a presentation on our trip to Rüdesheim. The hotel café bar, again, became our head quarters for a night. Most of us couldn’t have made it if it wasn’t with the help of Frau Ahlheim (a.k.a. our dear Mona), who became our volunteer German teacher (at one point her class was made of 10 of us).
The next day was the big day! We did our presentations group by group, and some of the conversations were really funny (the guys were really creative). It was satisfying to see ourselves and realize that we arrived without knowing a word in German (except for Hallo and Danke) and now we were able to make basic sentences and count! We’ve come a long way indeed…
In the evening, we decided to organise a picnic to enjoy one of the last sunny days in Darmstadt before we left (the weather forecast announced rain for the next two days). We organised ourselves to buy Einweg grills, a sort of disposable barbecue grill for one person (thank you Germany!) and meat, and then set off to Grube Prinz von Hessen lake. It’s almost an hour bus ride, with a connection once in the outskirts of Darmstadt and a short 10-minute walk through the woods. But it’s totally worth it! Aidan, Gaetan and Rodeo used their cavemen skills to light up the bonfire and Sheyna, Roger and CH were handling the BBQ production chain, while the rest of us enjoyed swimming in the lake.
We had to be careful not to miss the last bus back to Darmstadt! Some of us got a little lost when we tried to join the others, who were already at the bus stop waiting for the bus, and we only had 10 minutes to reach them. So there we were, walking in the dark with all of our stuff and trying to find our way out (no, there is no service coverage in the woods so Google Maps wasn’t very useful) until we saw a bright light in front of us: it was Dev who was making signals with his phone! The rest of the group cheered us while we ran as fast as we could so that we wouldn’t miss the bus, and we made it safely back to the city. This was absolutely one of the most memorable Darmstadt adventures for us.
Our last educational outing was in Mühltal where we visited a smart house owned by Dr. Bernhard Hein, a very friendly person who welcomed us warmly. He actually retrofitted his own house (which was originally built in 1920) with solar panels and advanced technologies such as solar inverters and device controllers all wired to smart software like TA Designer and TAPPS2 which are used to program the heating system and switching modules in his house.
He started the guided tour of his house by showing us his garden (where he planted a variety of vegetables) and his solar panels which are strategically located on the roof of his house. We were then invited inside where he had already set up a presentation room with comfortable benches, chairs and small snacks which included hot tea (made of herbs from his garden) and coffee.
We were introduced, through a Powerpoint presentation, to the equipment installed, how to interprete the data collected, the controlled devices and the software he uses to efficiently monitor the heating system of his smart house even when he is abroad on holidays (ah, Internet is of great use in such technologies!). He has definitely proved to us that anyone can go for a smart home as the initial investment does lead to a significant saving later. He also showed us his basement where the solar inverter, the device controllers, the hot water (boiled by the solar heaters) as well as the gas heater and the paper/wood burner (used during winter when there is not enough sunshine for the solar panels to work properly) are installed. We are certainly thankful to Dr Hein who generously opened the doors of his unique house and kindly offered to help us in any future smart home project.