Innovations for the energy transition

Research and development activities are instrumental in delivering the energy transition and in paving the way for more climate action. The 2020 Federal Report on Energy Research presents the latest findings.

Laboratory of the German Aerospace Center© GERMAN AEROSPACE CENTER

By 2050, Germany wants to achieve greenhouse gas neutrality. By 2030, the share of renewables in electricity consumption is to amount to 65%. The foundation for tomorrow's climate-friendly energy system is laid by energy research. Research and development are supported by the 7th Energy Research Programme of the Federal Government. Since it often takes a lot of time before research findings can be applied in practice, the Research Programme places particular emphasis on the promotion of measures that can speed up the transfer of technology and innovation into practice. The 'regulatory sandboxes for the energy transition', which foster applied energy research, are a case in point. These are large-scale projects that test forward-looking energy technologies in real-life conditions on an industrial scale. In December 2019, of the twenty winners of the competition for regulatory sandboxes for the energy transition, SmartQuart was the first project to be launched.

These and many other breakthroughs and current priorities of the 7th Energy Research Programme are presented in the latest issue of the Federal Report on Energy Research. In 2019, the Federal Government is reported to have invested around €1.15 billion in the programme, which represents a further 9% increase in funding compared to the previous year. The participating ministries pursue a twofold approach that consists of institutional research funding, on the one hand, and the key instrument of project funding on the other. Teams of scientists that are organised through partnerships between companies and research institutions work on issues that are of great importance to the practical implementation of the energy transition. At the same time, the participation of the business community is to ensure that the transfer of the innovations can take place whilst the project is still ongoing. In 2019, the Federal Government funded 5,903 ongoing projects and approved funding for 1,622 new projects.

SMEs as catalysts for the energy transition

Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) play a key role along the path of innovations from scientific research to their commercial application. SMEs have a particular aptitude for swiftly transferring innovations from research into practice and making them fit for the market. Thus, they become a catalyst for the success of modern technologies and for more climate action. They use energy-efficient solutions in their own operations, opt for modern forms of power and heat supply from renewable sources of energy, and offer applications, products and services on the market. SMEs account for a total of 28% of beneficiaries from the new projects approved in 2019 within the framework of the 7th Energy Research Programme. Of the ongoing projects in 2019, they had a share of 25%.

From digitalisation to sector coupling

The Federal Government's 7th Energy Research Programme seeks to orient research funding more towards cross-sector and cross-system issues. These include digitalisation, sector coupling and the interactions between the energy system and society. It is precisely the focus on interfaces and interdisciplinary areas of research that drives the energy transition. By promoting a better understanding of the interactions between the various stakeholders within an energy supply system shaped by renewables, it helps to increase efficiency and security. Therefore, the successful transformation of the energy system requires both scientific advances in individual technologies (e.g. optimising the components of wind energy installations) and a kind of research that focuses on the big picture and on the interconnections between systems.

Keeping up to date with energy research

These broad-based topics are also addressed by the new website It provides information on energy research across a wide range of areas, including hydrogen and sector coupling, electricity storage, power grids, systems analysis, digitalisation, the energy transition and society, and the energy transition in the transport sector. By reporting on current projects, funding measures and trends, and by publishing a newsletter, the portal supports the transfer of research findings into commercial applications. Further information on the topic of energy research is available on specialised portals such as and, and on the websites of the energy research networks.