Challenges and Results

Energy, Resources and Sustainability

A global approach to the energy transition

At the 2015 Paris Climate Conference, the international community closed ranks in the battle against global warming: In the second half of the century, the greenhouse gas emissions are to be reduced to an amount that soils, forests and oceans are able to absorb. The EU member states had already agreed on common objectives for the reduction of carbon emissions and the aspired share of renewables in the energy supply by 2030 the year before. A European energy union requires sustainably designed and better interconnected national energy systems. In other words: The German energy transition must not least be approached from a European and international angle. A common effort is necessary to realise a low-carbon energy supply. This is the spirit behind the Academies’ Project "Energy Systems of Future" (ESYS) and a number of other projects and events.

Complex structures: Considering cross-border interactions

Interventions in the energy system often have unexpected effects. An example: Although the share of renewable energy is increasing in Germany, this does not result in any reduction of carbon emissions in Europe at large. The reason is not a technical one: The quantity of greenhouse gas which may be emitted in the EU is determined by the European Emissions Trading System (EU ETS). The increase of renewable energies releases certificates in this system, making them available for emissions elsewhere. Such systemic correlations in the energy transition were at the centre of an analysis published in February 2015 by a working group of ESYS, the joint initiative by acatech, the German National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina and the Union of the German Academies of Sciences and Humanities.

"The energy transition in Germany constitutes a great feat. To master it, we must rapidly develop new technologies and pool our research efforts. At the same time, we also need to involve the public at the G7-level. The transformation of the energy systems will not succeed without the support of the public."

Federal Minister of Education and Research Johanna Wanka at the meeting of the G7-Science Ministers in October 2015 on the spirit of cooperation behind the Academies’ Project ESYS

European energy and climate policy: A joint move towards international standards

The interactions between national and Europe-wide regulations show clearly why Germany should refrain from playing a lone hand in the energy transition. Rather, Europe should promote a consistent and coordinated energy and climate policy that can serve as a model for global change. The ESYS position paper "Incorporating the German Energiewende into a comprehensive European approach" published in March 2015 outlines how a more effective emissions trading system and a consolidated internal electricity market could promote the EU climate and energy policy. The current low price for emissions allowances is insufficient to trigger additional investments in climate-friendly technologies. By way of remedy, the ESYS position paper suggests the introduction of a price corridor, consisting of a minimum and a maximum price per ton of carbon dioxide. In order to strengthen the internal European electricity market, the grid infrastructure needs to be expanded across Europe, facilitating the transport and trading of electricity across national borders.

Towards a stable and sustainable power supply

Clearly, the success of the energy transition is not only a question of regulatory measures, but also of technical feasibility. For instance, all countries generating a large share of their electricity from renewable sources are facing the challenge of bridging periods when there is neither wind nor solar radiation, so-called dark and windless periods. ESYS contributed its expertise to this debate with the position paper "Flexibility concepts for the German power supply in 2050", published in December 2015. In this paper, the responsible ESYS working group explains how a stable power supply can be ensured in the age of renewable energies. Flexibility technologies must be employed to balance the fluctuating feed-in from wind power and photovoltaics. Flexible power plants, storage systems and an effective load management are key elements for success.

A GLOBAL APPROACH TO THE ENERGY TRANSITION: A STABLE POWER SUPPLY FROM RENEWABLE ENERGY SOURCES. acatech is anxious to promote an international transfer of knowledge – after all, the German energy transition is not the only project in the world attempting to restructure the energy supply. At the "International Energy Systems in Transition" conference, jointly organised by acatech, the platform "International Electric Research Exchange" and the RWE AG in November 2015 in Berlin, experts from various countries expounded upon the subject: It became clear that despite different basic conditions, the countries all face the common challenge of integrating an increasing amount of fluctuating power from wind and photovoltaic plants into the energy system. ESYS concludes that flexible gas power plants that are likewise operable with biogas, hydrogen or synthetic methane constitute an important element of a stable power supply. Thus, it is possible to bridge periods of up to three weeks with little wind and solar radiation. Short-term fluctuations in the power supply, on the other hand, can be compensated most cost-efficiently by demand-side management (consumption control). For instance, batteries in electric cars or in buildings with photovoltaic systems could hence be charged when power surpluses occur.

Dialogue and cooperation: Addressing the common challenge energy transition

Ultimately, however, the transformation of the energy system will not succeed unless the relevant social players pull together: This includes the stakeholders involved in the energy sector at various stages of the value chain as well as the scientific community, the political echelons and different social groups. Setting sail for a sustainable energy system requires new partnerships.

It is against this background that the "Energiewende Research Forum" assembles representatives from politics, industry and civil society in a transdisciplinary dialogue process. Scientific input is ensured by the Academies’ Project ESYS. In 2015, the dialogue platform continued the elaboration of a "Strategic Research Agenda" that had been started in 2014. The results were duly taken up in September 2015 by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research in its funding initiative "Kopernikus Projects for the Energy Transition". The Kopernikus Projects are to bring the worlds of research, industry and users together with the aim of developing new energy systems and concepts for implementation on an industrial scale.

ESYS IN PRINT. The Academies’ Project "Energy Systems of the Future" (ESYS) draws up proposals for the design of a secure and affordable low-carbon power supply. In 2015, ESYS published seven papers, including the analysis "Interactions in the Energy System", the position paper “Incorporating the German Energiewende into a comprehensive European approach” and the analysis and accompanying position paper "Flexibility concepts for the German power supply in 2050". A further position paper presents guidelines for more transparency in the creation of energy scenarios. An examination of the manifold energy policy objectives and an overview of social science research results on the energy transition were likewise published as analyses in the project’s monograph series "Energy Systems of the Future".

The HUMBOLDT-VIADRINA Governance Platform takes a similar approach, aiming at including the different disciplines as well as the public into the discussion. To this end, the Platform has established the so-called Trialogues. Directed and presented by the Platform’s president Gesine Schwan, this extensive discussion format takes up issues raised by the Academies’ Project ESYS with the aim of fuelling the dialogue between the research community and the public on the future design of the energy supply system. With what incentives can citizens be motivated to save energy? How can we ensure the availability of a sufficient quantity of the metals necessary to expand the new energy technologies? What advantages and disadvantages does a more decentralised energy system offer? These are the questions representatives from academia, industry, civil society organisations and the media addressed in the three trialogue discussions dedicated to the field of technology policy in 2015.

Fracking: No scientific justification for a general ban

Informing and involving the public into the processes from an early stage could help to enhance public confidence in new energy technologies. The controversially debated fracking technology is a case in point. Natural gas is an important element in the transformation process towards a low-carbon energy supply. By employing the fracking technology to recover shale gas, Germany could sustain its domestic gas production at the current level for decades to come. In addition, geothermal energy is a promising option for climate-neutral heat and electricity production. Fracking is likewise necessary to extract geothermal heat from deep rock strata.

[] © Ralph Lenkert MdB

“acatech should keep up the courage to contribute inconvenient scientific input to the debate. Otherwise, the scientific community will lose its credibility.”


Ralph Lenkert, environmental spokesman / spokesman for science and technology policy of the parliamentary group Die Linke, at a meeting with members of the acatech Exectuive Board in spring 2016


In June 2015, in the context of the legislative process on the question of fracking, acatech published a POSITION PAPER entitled "Hydraulic Fracturing – A technology under debate", fuelling the socio-political debate. In the paper, the Academy comes to the conclusion that scientific and technical facts do not justify a general ban on fracking. Its use should, however, be subject to strict safety standards and requires clear regulations and comprehensive monitoring. acatech accordingly advocates scientifically monitored pilot / test projects, both for the production of shale gas and for deep geothermal energy.

Overview of acatech's projects in the thematic field Energy, Resources and Sustainability in 2015

Hydraulic Fracturing – A Technology Under Debate Aug. 2013 – June 2016
Energy Systems of the Future (in partnership with Leopoldina and the Union of the Academies, lead institution: acatech) April 2013 – Feb. 2019
Energiewende Research Forum (in partnership with the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies and the Max Planck Society) April 2013 – Feb. 2016