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Energy, Resources and Sustainability

Climate protection requires a forward-looking energy policy

November 2016 had a strong claim to the title of “climate protection month of the year”. This was the month when a new global climate agreement came into force, replacing the Kyoto Protocol. Shortly afterwards, the Federal Cabinet adopted a Climate Action Plan for Germany that was presented by Federal Environment Minister Barbara Hendricks at the Marrakech climate summit.

Since climate protection is not possible without a sustainable, secure and affordable energy policy, acatech is engaging in the debate through a series of projects and events. In March 2016, for example, we began the second phase of the Energy Systems of the Future (ESYS) project, a joint initiative of acatech, the German National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina and the Union of the German Academies of Sciences and Humanities.

Making energy scenarios more transparent

Scenarios often provide the basis for energy policy decisions. The validity of these scenarios can only be evaluated if their outcomes are subject to scrutiny by third parties. However, many institutes do not disclose their data and models. In March 2016, the joint academy project ESYS published guidelines for improved transparency in a document entitled Consulting with energy scenarios which concludes that freely available open-source models would be the best solution. Even if the data forms part of the institute’s proprietary assets, it should at least still be disclosed to a panel of independent experts. Public institutions could also provide access to standard reference data so that different scenarios can be compared.

“Raw material and CO2 prices are difficult to predict, but assumptions about them can have a major influence on scenario outcomes. These assumptions should therefore be thoroughly documented.”

acatech Executive Board member Armin Grunwald, co-chair of the ESYS “Scenarios” working group, on the publication of the position paper Consulting with energy scenarios

No energy transition without metals

The success of the energy transition hinges not only on energy policy decisions but also on the availability of raw materials. Growing quantities of metals and minerals are required for wind farms, solar plants and storage systems. Published in August 2016, the study Rohstoffe für die Energieversorgung der Zukunft describes the interactions between Germany’s energy transition, the global raw materials markets and the social and environmental landscape of the mining industry.

Engaging with the public

Both mining projects and projects to upgrade the energy infrastructure can be scuppered by public protests. To what extent does giving the public a say increase acceptance of the energy transition and at what point does it hamper decision-making? And how can individuals contribute to a successful energy transition in their role as consumers? These were some of the questions addressed during the discussion forum “Energie.System.Wende.” held in Berlin in September 2016.

ESYS members also engage in regular discussions with experts from government, industry and NGOs at the “trialogues” hosted by the HUMBOLDT-VIADRINA Governance Platform. In July, acatech Executive Board member Eberhard Umbach presented the interim results of a project on “integrated energy” that looks at how best to create linkages between the electricity, heating and transport sectors in order to minimise greenhouse gas emissions.

Different stakeholders in society also want to have their say about the direction of energy research. In order to bring these diverse voices together, the “Energiewende Research Forum” dialogue platform organised a participation process that ran from 2013 to 2015. Its results were fed into the Kopernikus Projects for the Energy Transition research initiative. Federal Minister of Education and Research Johanna Wanka announced the selected consortia at the Energiewende Research Forum before unveiling them to the press in April 2016. A total of 230 research institutions, companies and civil society organisations are developing solutions for new power grid structures, ways of using surplus renewable energy, flexible industrial processes and systems integration.

“We will show that a secure, affordable and clean energy supply is possible without sacrificing prosperity and jobs. Between now and 2025, we will be bringing new energy concepts online that can be used on an industrial scale but are also acceptable to society.“

Federal Minister of Education and Research Johanna Wanka announces the Kopernikus projects at the Energiewende Research Forum in April 2016.

Reusing CO2

It is clear from the above that ideas and research initiatives for achieving a more sustainable energy supply are already well advanced. However, preventing CO2  from industrial processes – e.g. in cement and steel production – from escaping into the atmosphere is a far greater challenge. Since June 2016, acatech has been investigating Carbon Capture and Storage (CSS) and Carbon Capture and Utilisation (CCU) technologies in a project funded by the European Climate Foundation entitled Technical Decarbonisation Solutions: Methods of Reducing CO2 in Industrial Processes.

After all, COcontains carbon, which is a fundamental building block of many chemical products. The working group is analysing the role that Industrial Carbon Capture, Utilisation and Storage (iCCUS) can play in a long-term climate protection strategy for Germany, with a view to maintaining the competitiveness of German industry in an era of stringent emissions targets.

acatech projects in the thematic field of Energy, Resources and Sustainability in 2016

Completed projects  
Energy Systems of the Future (Phase I) March 2013 - Feb. 2016
Ongoing projects  
Technical Decarbonisation Solutions: Methods of Reducing CO2 in Industrial Processes June 2016 - Jan. 2017
Energy Systems of the Future (Phase II) March 2016 - Feb. 2019
Geothermal Technologies in Metropolitan Areas Jan. 2017 - June 2018