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It's an undisputed fact at this point: the energy transition is coming. By 2022 all nuclear power plants in Germany will be decommissioned and CO2 emissions will have been massively reduced — all part of the effort to make energy clean, safe and affordable. To ensure that this can happen, Federal Minister of Education and Research Johanna Wanka has challenged her nation's scientists and researchers to find answers for the thorniest questions and to design energy concepts for the future. Wanka is backing up her challenge with 400 million euros in federal research funding to be made available to four selected initiatives, known as the Kopernikus projects , over a 10-year period. 120 million of those euros are slated for the first three years, and then another 280 million euros by 2025. The funds are eligible for universities as well as other research institutions, companies and cultural organizations. The goal: formulation of implementable solutions for the energy transition — and the internalization of a paradigm shift. Just like the one promulgated by the original Nikolaus Copernicus over 500 years ago with his then-new helio-centric view of the world.

From Central to Decentralized

The biggest challenges of the energy transition: transforming our currently centralized energy system into a decentralized one. If 80% of the energy in coming years is to be generated from renewable resources, then "the energy must be harvested where it is grown," says Dr. Veit Hagenmeyer, Collegial Institute Director at the Karlsruhe Institute for Technology (KIT). "As a result, the grids are going to have to shift into more of a city/country scenario, with voltage levels set to appropriate levels for the new network design. We at KIT are researching exactly how that will look."

New Grid Structures

Beyond the new grid structures, the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) has identified three other research fields for a successful energy transition. The Karlsruhe Institute for Technology is involved with three of the four projects . As coordinator of the ENSURE projects (new energy grid structure for the energy), it is a leading force in answering the question of how the power grid can be adapted to cope with irregular supply. This includes exploring stable mechanisms and the integration of new technologies, as well as an answer as to how the transformation of the energy system will work at a culture level. "Our goal is to show what the energy supply of the future will look like for a city of up to 300,000 inhabitants," Hagenmeyer says. "It's also important that we invest in the predictive methods of big data, such as involving energy consumption and harnessing of heat. And IT security is also increasingly of importance here." In an age where all things are networked, a cyberattack could potentially target a city's energy grid . In a worst-case scenario, it might be separated entirely from the grid.

As part of the ENSURE project, the participants must initially commit to paper the fundamental components and technologies that they see as essential for a new grid structure . They will then build a model-scale "grid of the future" in the KIT's Energy Lab 2.0. "We're testing how everything harmonizes with each other," Hagenmeyer says.

Power-to-X Technologies

Power production using the sun and wind can fluctuate heavily. "In the future, excess energy from renewable resources will need to be stored for a period, including in other energy carriers. Demand-side management and grid management must also be made usable," Hagenmeyer notes. These questions of how to store renewable sources is the focus of the Kopernikus project Power-to-X . The object of the consortium is to explore the potential options for converting generated energy into other energy sources, such as gaseous substances (Power-to-Gas), liquid substances (Power-to-Liquid) or base chemicals (Power-to-Chemicals).

The third project in the research initiative involves new technologies for adapting industrial processes to new sources of energy. Energy-intensive production, including those found in the chemical industry or the steel and aluminum fields, are subject to challenges such as adjusting the fluctuating supply of power. Instituting flexibility is a must. Because power, gas and thermal energy can work together to deliver a reliable source of power to households and industry, this is the field of research for the latest consortium on system integration .

Facts and Figures on the Energy Transformation — in Real Time

How many smart meters have already been installed worldwide? How much solar energy reaches the earth today? How large are the world's remaining oil reserves? Answers to these and other questions can be found in the real-time info graphic for the new world of energy .

Energy , the leading international fair for integrated energy systems and mobility, will welcome guests to HANNOVER MESSE with a broad spectrum of forums, congresses and special events on the topic of energy and the energy transition. The KIT will be presenting the Kopernikus projects at its stand (H51) in the Energy hall .