Solar power plant in Vienna a nature habitat

A solar power plant in Vienna serves a double function - not only does it create renewable energy, but it also provides an optimal habitat for endangered insects and small mammals.

Solar power plant in Vienna a nature habitat
The solar power plant in Vienna's 23rd district. Photo: Wien Energie/Thomas Preiss

The solar power plant in Liesing, which was built in 2013, produces 1,000 MWh annually and supplies around 400 households.

It also offers a home to 13 protected species of grasshoppers and crickets, praying mantis, as well as field hamsters, moths, snails, lizards, spiders and beetles.  

“Since there’s lots of space in between the solar modules we can secure these areas and create a rich area of habitat,” Thomas Proksch, owner of landscape planning offices Land Ahoy said. The area is around the size of two football pitches. 

A special method of mowing the grass ensures that the grasshoppers’ optimal habitat is preserved. The area directly under the solar panels is warm – which is also beneficial for the grasshoppers.

“We’re not only concerned about the environment, but also about wildlife conservation,” Wien Energie CEO Susanna Zapreva said.

“In the next five years we plan to invest €800 million, and more than half of that will be on renewable energy,” she added.

At present only one percent of electricity in Austria is produced from photovoltaic systems – far behind Germany which produces 4.5 percent of its energy from solar power.

Gerhard Heilingbrunner, president of Austria's environment association, has said that 55 percent of roof surfaces in Vienna would be well suited for solar panels.

Vienna residents can purchase up to ten photovoltaic panels from Wien Energie. Each panel costs €950. They then rent the panels back to Wien Energie and receive an annual fee of €29,45, per year, per panel – for a minimum of five years.

After around 25 years Wien Energie buys the solar panels back and the resident is repaid in full. 

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In Austria, Vienna’s horse-drawn carriages feel the heat

As much of Europe stifles under record high temperatures, Vienna's "fiaker" horse carriage drivers fear for their future with animal rights activists turning up the heat.

In Austria, Vienna's horse-drawn carriages feel the heat

At the stables of one of the Austrian capital’s leading fiaker businesses, driver Marco Pollandt explains how the animals are coping with increasingly hot weather and how much time off they enjoy.

Rights activists want horses to stop work as soon as temperatures hit 30C (86F) and not 35C as under current rules — a demand that fiaker or carriage drivers say will destroy their centuries-old profession.

“We can all live with the 35C but going down more is actually not good for the horses, and we also have to discuss the economic results of this,” Pollandt tells AFP.

The 28-year-old Viennese says horses trained to pull carriages need the exercise, while their caretakers need the income.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: Will Austria ban horse-drawn carriages?

On hot days, fiaker drivers ensure the horses drink enough, while the places where they wait for customers are shady in the afternoon.

“The climate is changing and it’s getting more and more hot,” Pollandt says.

“And of course it makes a difference if we have seven days a year that we are not allowed to ride or if we have 30 days a year we are not allowed to ride.”

High demand

Pollandt — who used to work in gastronomy and started to offer dining in a fiaker five years ago — has been running a website to inform people about the horses and the carriage driving profession. He also runs stable tours offering a glimpse behind the scenes. 

A coachman of horse driven carriages (Fiakers) prepares his horse at the stables of a leading fiaker business prior leaving stables for daily tourist tours in Vienna, Austria, on July 13, 2022.(Photo by JOE KLAMAR / AFP)

Three hundred horses still pull carriages through Vienna, past the town hall and other tourist sites, generating thousands of jobs, he notes.

“I realised no one actually explains to people how everything works,” says Pollandt pointing to strict regulations and regular veterinary checkups to keep the horses fit.

READ ALSO: One day in Vienna: How to spend 24 hours in the Austrian capital

Hurt by Covid lockdowns and travel curbs since 2020, business has picked up again swiftly this year.

But activists say the animals suffer in the big city especially in scorching temperatures.

“This work is clearly linked to animal suffering. The horses are sometimes in the sun at 34.5C and working.”

Buckets of water, rest in the shade and caring coachmen but no summer break for the famous cabs of Vienna, despite the heat wave and the pressure of animal defenders. (Photo by JOE KLAMAR / AFP)

“They are exposed to noise, exhaust fumes, traffic and of course stress,” says David Fenzl of the Association against Animal Factories.

In June, city officials considered the demands to enforce stricter regulations, but in the end decided to delay lowering the temperatures under which horses are not allowed to work, pending a study to be carried out next year.

READ ALSO: Austria bans ‘senseless’ killing of chicks with new animal welfare rules

So for now, fiakers can ride on — unless temperatures exceed 35C, as predicted later this week.

Scientists say heat waves are becoming more frequent and intense due to climate change.

Britain and France went on unprecedented heatwave alerts this week as southwest Europe wilted and ferocious wildfires devoured more forests.