The energy transition – A driver of innovation

"Ice for heating" and electric vehicles used as power storage – New technologies and ideas for our energy landscape as showcased at the Hannover Messe.

Robotic hand touches ball of energy© Fotolia/sdecoret

From its very beginnings, the Hannover Messe has been a place for innovation and ground-breaking ideas. When the first Hannover Messe was opened in 1947 by the then incumbent Chancellor, Konrad Adenauer, the exhibition grounds consisted of five halls with a combined surface of 30,000 square metres. Mr Adenauer took a tour of these grounds, enjoyed some fish rolls and inspected what were deemed "quality products ready for export". Today, 72 years later, the exhibition is the world’s largest industrial fair, hosted at the world’s largest exhibition grounds and visited by more than 215,000 people interested in what 65,000 exhibitors have to show to them in the fields of artificial intelligence and machine learning. But two things that have stayed the same are fascinating innovations “Made in Germany” and the possibility to catch a glimpse of the future.

Artificial intelligence and machine learning

This year as always, the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy also participated in the Hannover Messe, presenting a large number of funding projects and programmes designed to turn ideas into actual innovations, including in the field of energy. A clear message to take home was that the energy transition acts as a driver of innovation. There are a large number of new developments, technologies and products that will make it even easier to rely on renewables and use them efficiently.

Small-scale energy generation: A digital platform for joint sales

The Smart Energy Communities (SMECS) project funded by the Ministry is an example of a project that is of particular interest to house owners and small energy communities alike. Everyone generating electricity on a small scale can use a digital platform to sell their electricity directly, bypassing expensive wholesale markets.

This is how it works: the amount of electricity generated and used by small-scale electricity producers will vary for each producer and depending on the time. This means that all electricity producers involved must seek to align their feed-in and off-take to the best possible extent before they can then proceed to jointly selling electricity at a low cost and in a transparent way. The SMECS platform, which is at the heart of the project, harnesses the latest technology to make this possible, making use of blockchain, the Internet of Things, smart services, big data analytics and cloud computing. Under the project, different price and sales models are tested for different scenarios.

Maximum reach for electric vehicles

"Innovative high-rev driveline concepts": this may sound like jargon borrowed from an action film, but it could hold the key to increasing the reach of electric vehicles whilst simultaneously lowering their operating costs. Experts involved in the Speed4E project have developed a high-rev driveline for this purpose. This new driveline performs at 30,000 revolutions per minute – considerably more than the 10,000 to 15,000 for today’s mass produced electric vehicles. This allows for better performance and a smaller driveline. Smaller and more light-weight driveline technology would make electric vehicles not only more efficient, but would make them up to 30% cheaper to produce.

Electric vehicles serving as mobile energy storage

A car powered by this driveline technology would also able to participate in the 'lokSMART NOW!' project and double up as a mobile power storage solution. The greater the share of renewables in our energy mix, the greater the need for mobile energy storage. After all, demand for wind or solar energy is not always high when there are strong winds or a lot of sun, resulting in a lot of power being fed into the grids. Mobile storage solution systems serve as interim storage for renewables. The 'lokSMART NOW' project is about developing technologies that allow electric vehicles to be used as mobile storage solutions via DC charging stations and integrated into autonomous local smart grids. A local smart grid uses smart grid technology on a small scale, for instance to supply individual buildings or commercial buildings. This is particularly useful for those electricity users who generate at least some of the electricity they use themselves. As for the DC charging stations, these are particularly energy efficient and help minimise electricity losses. Unlike with traditional AC charging stations, no electricity is lost in the process of converting the AC into DC. The energy flows between two DC batteries, such as a car battery and a buffer storage battery mounted in a building.

Cold storage facilities to power air conditioning systems and 'heating with ice'

Experts from the Institute of Air Handling and Refrigeration (ILK Dresden) are using cooling technologies to store energy. A particularly efficient and flexible way of achieving this is the new vacuum ice process they have developed. Whenever energy from renewables is available, the system produces liquid ice that can be pumped. The energy stored in this way can be used very flexibly, unlike with earlier technologies. The cooling process takes place whenever there is a lot of energy available. The liquid ice in a vacuum can be used to store energy in air conditioning and process cooling systems for instance. These are systems that require a lot of electricity, particularly in a hot climate. Apart from cooling, the technology can also be used for 'heating with ice' or to help use water resources as a source of heat. This requires the ice being turned back into electricity or heat.

Where is all the energy going? This is how to make energy visible in the production process

What company would say "No!" to more energy-efficient manufacturing processes? The Mittelstand 4.0 Centre of Excellence of Darmstadt brought its own demonstration project to the Hannover Messe to show what energy-efficient production can look like. Experts from the Centre have developed a dedicated software that records energy flows in production and makes them visible. This makes it easier to identify potential for better energy efficiency and for lowering consumption levels. The Centre of Excellence also organises workshops for companies, showing them how to use the demonstrator.

It is pretty safe to assume that Konrad Adenauer, a man known to be passionate about technology, would have parted with his fish roll in order to work the demonstrator. Incidentally, Adenauer held patents for two of his own inventions, a type of soy sausage and a bread recipe 'for times of struggle' and also liked to conserve energy: he had a timer fitted to his lamp so that the light would switch off automatically after 30 minutes.