The emergence of industry was always linked to the proximity to energy – energy for operating machines and plants and for the production of process heat. In the Niederrhein region it was primarily fossil fuels that were used: hard coal in the north, lignite in the south. Hard coal mining in the Niederrhein region is now history. Lignite, on the other hand, will continue to play a huge role for a long time to come.

With a share of almost 25 percent in Germany’s electricity generation, today lignite is the number one primary energy carrier. The lignite power stations in the Niederrhein region and in the neighboring southern area alone provide 15 percent of Germany’s electricity requirements and even half of North Rhine-Westphalia’s.

There are 1.3 billion tons of lignite in the Garzweiler surface mine near Grevenbroich. RWE Power intends to convert these natural resources into electricity by 2045 in its neighbouring power stations, including in Neurath, where two new power station blocks, each with a gross electrical output of 1,100 megawatts, came on stream in 2012. They produce base load electricity more efficiently and in a more environmentally friendly way than anywhere else in the world.

The beneficiaries include industrial enterprises that depend on a reliable supply of high power outputs – for example, Hydro, Germany’s largest aluminium mill, and Alu Norf, the world’s largest aluminium rolling mill with the world’s largest foundry.

The energy sector in the Niederrhein region is also working to increase the share of renewable energies in energy generation. Regional energy suppliers such as NEW have set up subsidiaries especially for this purpose. They operate photovoltaic plants on the roofs of public and private buildings, as well as biogas facilities and wind turbines.

Also as a subsidiary – albeit with parent companies such as NRW-Bank, RWE Innogy, TÜV Nord and the local municipalities – Windtest Grevenbroich GmbH operates the world’s largest testing ground for inland wind energy facilities in the immediate vicinity of the lignite surface mine. The company has been testing prototypes and pilot plants since 1998.

Other typical players in the growth market for renewable energies are small and medium-sized businesses that operate as suppliers, producers or facility operators. Three examples include Windenergie Jansen, which plans, installs and operates wind farms, the Neuss-based company Hummel Energiesysteme, where vegetable oil is the fuel for a combined heat and power station park with 30 CHP units capable of handling the base load. The electricity produced with an efficiency of 90 percent is enough for 25,000 households or a few hundred medium-sized enterprises; the heat generated is fed into a local heating network. The airport Weeze has installed the largest photovoltaic facility in North Rhine-Westphalia. It has a capacity of about 14 megawatts and produces enough electricity for well over 3,000 households.

Companies conceived as cooperatives, such as ReEnergie Niederrhein AG, represent another aspect of the energy industry in the Niederrhein region. This company is planning to convert the former military airport Niederkrüchten-Elmpt into a solar park. Companies like this aim to help shape the energy turnaround from the midst of a civil society and local industry with a keen sense of responsibility and to bring together economic and ecological needs while doing so.