Energy research paves the way for the Energy Transition

Highly efficient, clean, affordable – and intelligent besides: technological innovation is shaping the energy system of the future. Last year the Federal Government increased its spending on energy research to around 819 million euros.

Energy research: the photo shows a procedure for examining metal construction materials.Energy research: the photo shows a procedure for examining metal construction materials. © Forschungszentrum Jülich

How can renewable energy sources be used even more effectively, technologies such as wind power generation be improved to give even higher performance? What potentials does storing electricity and heat harbour? How can grids be made intelligent and responsive? Energy research is working on answers to these and other crucial questions posed in the context of the Energy Transition. In doing so, it is laying the foundations for trailblazing innovations. Thanks to these efforts, new technologies that today are still largely unexplored, not yet economically viable or even as yet unknown could in future re-shape our energy system.

Cabinet passes energy research report

On 6 May the Federal Cabinet passed the annual "Federal Government Report on Energy Research." This gives an insight into research structures and government funding priorities in Germany. "The energy system of the future will differ radically from today's. A crucial prerequisite for the long-term success of the Energy Transition is for Germany to remain a competitive industrial location. For that we need a highly reliable supply system, effective protection of the climate and an economically viable energy supply," says Federal Minister for Economic Affairs and Energy Sigmar Gabriel. "The only way to achieve this is through pioneering research and innovations. That is why we have made energy research a strategic element of our energy policy."

The Federal Government Report on Energy Research is submitted by the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy, which is responsible for energy research. The latest edition shows: the Federal Government's investment in research into modern energy technologies increased to 819 million euros in 2014. In 2013 it was still 809 million euros, in 2006 only 399 million euros. That means that Federal research spending has more than doubled in just eight years. In addition to the Federal Government, the German states are also investing in energy research; further funds are available from the EU Framework Programme for research. The largest amounts are dedicated to the key topic areas of "energy efficiency" and "renewable energy sources" – the two pillars of the Energy Transition. New priorities have been set on addressing systemic issues in the fields of storage, grids, buildings and integrating the energy from renewable sources into the system. Essentially, the primary focus is on applied research.

New ideas for networks, new storage media, and solar heating and power for buildings and neighbourhoods

Example: the "smart grid." Scientists in the "Smart Area Aachen" research project are developing technical approaches and components for an intelligent electricity grid. The aim is to integrate the electricity generated from renewable energy sources into the local distribution infrastructure in such a way as to ensure that the supply system remains secure and stable. The field test is running "right on the doorstep" – in the 3,000-metre supply network operated by the Aachen municipal utility company. Another example is the "ELAAN" project from the "mobile storage" research sector: an innovative drive train is being developed for vehicles used, for instance, for clearing snow and sweeping pedestrian zones which combines a battery with a hydrogen-filled fuel cell to dispense with an internal combustion engine. In the context of buildings and neighbourhoods, too, researchers are driving innovation and with it the Energy Transition. In the "future:solar" project, for example, they are testing whether and how heat and electricity for an entire city district can be extracted from up to 100 per cent solar power. The focus is on not only the technical but also the economic potentials of photovoltaics and solar-thermal conversion – both in new buildings and in the legacy building stock.

Kick-off meeting for the "Research and Innovation" platform

To link up the multitudinous research activities going on in Germany more closely and to put them into practice more effectively so that innovative processes and technologies come onto the market faster: that is also one of the aims of the Energy Transition "Research and Innovation" platform. More than 60 experts from business, science and politics got together at the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy (BMWi) last week for the platform's inaugural meeting.

The platform advises the BMWi on research and innovation issues and promotes dialogue with the business world and academia. It is one the five platforms set up by the BMWi to ensure timely participation by societal stakeholders in the formulation of policy on cardinal topics concerning the Energy Transition.