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Analysis points politicians in the right direction for CO2-neutral energy systems.
[Photo: University of Stuttgart/ Daniela Leitner]

How must the European Union arrange its energy policy to ensure that it will no longer be necessary to generate electrical power from coal, oil or gas by 2050? An international research group, in which seven researchers from the University of Stuttgart's Institute of Energy Economics and the Rational Use of Energy (IER) are also participating, wants to address this question.

To find out what the EU needs to mandate to achieve a carbon-neutral energy system, researchers from eleven European institutes are compiling an integrated analysis based on multiple criteria in the course of the REEEM (Role of technologies in an Energy-Efficient Economy – Model based analysis of policy measures and transformation pathways to a sustainable energy system) project. This analysis of all relevant factors is intended to show how technologies, such as wind and hydraulic power generation, could be deployed synergistically for the purpose of decarbonization and to identify the economic ramifications of different combinations of these technologies. In addition, the researchers will also be considering other aspects, such as air pollution control and social acceptance. As Dr. Ulrich Fahl, Head of the Energy Industry and Sociological Analysis Department at the IER, explains: “this integrated approach demonstrates that we are not simply focusing on the economy or technology, but are also looking at such things as social acceptance issues, which will give us a broader understanding of the potential ramifications”.

Specifically, the project is about the detailed planning for the European emissions trading scheme, among other things.

Dr. Ulrich Fahl, Head of the Energy Industry and Sociological Analysis Department at the IER, University of Stuttgart

The analysis will ultimately result in concrete recommendations about courses of action we already need to be initiating today to achieve the specified targets in 30 years' time and which potential developments can remain undecided for the time being. The objective of the EU’s Strategic Plan for Energy Technology (SET-Plan) is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80 to 95 per cent by 2050. “Specifically”, says Fahl, “the project is about the detailed planning for the European emissions trading scheme, among other things”. The current relevant regulations will remain valid until 2020. One of the questions the researchers are investigating is how it needs to be modified to be more effective going forward. But, the question list also encompasses such aspects as more effective support measures for building insulation that promise to be more successful than the current German Energy Saving Ordinance (EnEV). The question of how these measures and the technological developments match will remain at the forefront of the research teams thinking.

Initially, the researchers will investigate the opportunities for action open to the EU: what things could be aligned throughout Europe? Which framework conditions could be specified? The crux of the matter, in this context, is coordination between the various member states. In a second step, the group will consider how a “coalition of the willing” could promote European unification. And, in the third step, the researchers will look at the extent to which national, protectionist outlooks affect specific parties. Based on the results, they then plan to determine whether their energy policy recommendations would need to differ depending on which of the trends comes to dominate.

Computers Have a Lot to Do

The IER plays a central role in four of the five work packages that together make up the EU project, which has been granted four million euro of funding. For example, the Stuttgart-based engineering managers and economists will be investigating the ramifications of innovations in the energy sector. They are creating an energy-system-integration model to show how individual developments in the construction, transport, power supply and industrial sectors could be integrated. Another research group is analyzing the impact of the European energy system on health, air pollution control, climate protection and environmental conservation. To do so, the researchers are using various mathematical models and databases that they developed in earlier projects and are now refining. “We're modelling every member state separately”, Fahl explains, “including Switzerland and Norway”. That takes time, and, the more refined the results need to be, the more complex the task becomes.

The fourth research group is focusing on the extent to which the behavior of individual actors may impact the development of the future European energy system. “Even within Germany people behave differently in the southern, northern and eastern regions”, Fahl points out: “and things are even more interesting when you compare Scandinavia, the British Isles and Eastern and Southern Europe where the differences are more pronounced”. In this context, the researchers always consider a range of variant consumer behaviors: some are inclined to passively accept whatever politicians prescribe, whilst others tend to actively invest in new technologies such as solar power and battery storage. The researchers are using survey data gathered by their project partners in London. According to Fahl: “This study enables us to see beyond national borders and to make relevant comparisons”. What would happen if one were to implement something akin to the German Renewable Energies Act in other cultural settings? Would differences emerge and, if so, what would they be?

Fahl emphasizes the fact that, to ensure that the REEEM strategy is actually implemented in reality, “this is no ivory-tower-type exercise”. That’s why the research group regularly organizes workshops to discuss their interim findings with decision-makers from the political sphere, the industrial sector and non-governmental organizations, whereby the different perspectives are important and the data valuable: participants from the industrial sector, for example, provide data pertaining to current developments in battery storage technology and its potential for further refinement, which then informs further studies. As Fahl explains: “the objective is to come up with a set of robust policy recommendations for the future that will be taken seriously in terms of technological developments and their realistic implementation potential”.

Daniel Völpel


This image shows Andrea Mayer-Grenu

Andrea Mayer-Grenu

Scientific Consultant, Research Publications

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