Toward a climate-neutral, safe, and affordable energy supply - Research Field Energy

The energy transition is one of the major challenges facing our society today. In order to fight climate change, we need to develop highly efficient technologies and processes that let us produce, use, and distribute energy in a secure, reliable, and affordable way. This calls for scientific and technological innovations that are rapidly translated from laboratory results into practice. 

Helmholtz is creating the scientific basis for a climate-neutral energy supply that is economically and socially sustainable by conducting top-level research in its Centers – from basic principles through to applications, and across every discipline. Our scientists work in interdisciplinary research programs to develop viable solutions for the energy transition in Germany and sustainable methods of restructuring the global energy supply.

The Helmholtz Research Field Energy is helping to shape the energy system of the future by acting as a scientific architect that designs holistic concepts incorporating all the relevant energy conversion chains and exploring secure, future-oriented technologies. The Helmholtz Energy Transition Roadmap (HETR) highlights approaches for restructuring the energy system and enables us to advise and support society, policymakers, and businesses in an efficient manner.

Our scientists are creating solutions for a cross-sector energy system in which electricity, heat, and mobility are interconnected. Referred to as “sector coupling,” this system converts electricity produced from solar or wind energy into other forms of energy as flexibly and efficiently as possible so it can be used for heat supply, in transportation, and in industrial processes. This is the only way we will be able to sufficiently increase the share of renewable energies in the system as a whole.

This represents a fundamental restructuring of the energy system, and we need innovative technologies to achieve it. Helmholtz researches and develops these technologies – with the goal of storing energy from renewable energy sources where it is produced and transporting it as well as replacing fossil energy sources in industrial processes. Hydrogen technologies are one example.

In addition to new technologies for storing and distributing energy, intelligent networks are indispensable for a secure, optimal energy mix and resilient operation in the energy system of the future. This makes digital technologies, algorithms, and methods in the field of artificial intelligence key components in the work we do in the Research Field Energy. For example, they help us detect when, where, and to what extent surpluses and demands occur and make it possible to simulate, optimize, and plan future networks and operate them in a safe manner.

The Research Field Energy is also conducting fusion research as a further option for safe, climate-neutral energy production in the future. And even though Germany is set to close its last nuclear power plant by 2022, nuclear safety research remains a key topic, as many questions still need to be resolved with regard to dismantling nuclear power plants as well as the handling and storage of radioactive waste. We are responding by investing in research and development in this area. One particular challenge is verifying that a final repository will be secure for a period of one million years, and this can only be achieved on the basis of in-depth scientific knowledge and data.

The Research Field has research infrastructure at its disposal that is supported by long-term funding and, in some cases, is unparalleled anywhere in the world. This infrastructure makes the Helmholtz Centers sought-after partners for research institutions from around the globe, for universities at the regional, national, and international levels, as well as for companies and startups. Working in real-world laboratories, our scientists study aspects that are already theoretically possible today but are still in the early stages in terms of practical applications.

Partnerships with other Research Fields generate added scientific value. The Research Field Energy collaborates with all the other Helmholtz Research Fields on matters relating to its digitalization and materials research strategies. It has further partnerships with other Research Fields in the context of cross-cutting activities, for example on the topics of “Bioeconomy Meets Energy,” geothermal energy, nuclear repository research, radiation research, and “Sector Coupling Energy and Mobility.” The partners define joint research topics and exploit synergies to pursue research in these areas.

Overview

 

Research Field Energy

  • The scientists in the Research Field Energy are working on a climate-neutral energy supply that is economically and socially sustainable.
  • They pursue this aim by researching and developing innovative conversion, distribution, and storage technologies and devising solutions for a cross-sector energy system.
  • The Research Field Energy acts as a scientific architect, helping to design the energy system of the future based on its holistic approach, systemic perspective, and interdisciplinary collaboration.

 

The programs in the Research Field Energy

  • Energy System Design
  • Materials and Technologies for the Energy Transition
  • Fusion
  • Nuclear Waste Management, Safety and Radiation Research

 

Participating Helmholtz Centers

German Aerospace Center (DLR)

Forschungszentrum Jülich (FZJ)

Helmholtz‐Zentrum Berlin für Materialien und Energie (HZB)

Helmholtz-Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf (HZDR)

Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT)

 

Scientific associated Center

Max Planck Institute for Plasma Physics (IPP)

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Around 600 employees at ten Helmholtz Centers are researching hydrogen technologies. The Competence Map Hydrogen summarises the extensive research activities.

Competence Map Hydrogen (Handout, June 2020)