The development of a sustainable energy system is one of the main challenges of today’s society. This includes the necessity to pursue and harmonize different goals, from environmental and climate compatibility to security of supply and cost effectiveness to equal access.
We are looking for solutions which are characterized by technological reliability, techno-economic efficiency, environmental compatibility, and a high level of social acceptance. When innovative technologies are incorporated into the energy system, a number of interdependencies have to be considered: Natural gas and synthetically produced gases like biogas, hydrogen, and syngas, for example, can be used both materially and energetically.
Achieving sustainability through constructive future-oriented technology assessment
Against this background, scientists of the research area Energy carry out systems analyses and scientific assessments of energy technologies which are still under development and sometimes even competing.
As “constructive technology assessment” (constructive TA, CTA) these analyses shall provide a guideline for the further development of technologies towards more sustainability.
The related work is always carried out in co-operation with technical R&D partners. The analyses focus on the environmental, economic, social, and spatial implications of the respective technologies. Research typically includes the whole life cycle from the provision of primary energy sources and raw materials to conversion technologies and finally to the use of the end products.
Dealing with uncertainty and risk
The development of technologies is per se as future-oriented as the transformation of the whole energy system. It is therefore always carried out under uncertain or completely unknown conditions. Society plays an important role here. The future regulations regarding the operation of wind turbines are, for example, only partly known. Thus another goal of the research in this research area is to analyze the relevance and effects of existing uncertainties and the related risks in the context of the energy transformation.
Variety of methodological approaches
Most of the analyses of the investigated technologies are based on the life cycle and consider different indicators to cope with the complex implications of innovative technologies. The research area uses process-based methods, like environmental life cycle assessment (LCA) or techno-economic life cycle costing (LCC), but also approaches, integrating the different perspectives, e.g., life cycle sustainability assessment (LCSA). Depending on the research question, also other methods, like the material flow approach (MFA), are used. All methods are adapted by the research area to the respective problem and further developed in various ways.
Especially approaches from the field of future research are used and further developed for the analyses of the energy system transformation. This aims at future developments which can be examined in a method-based way regarding possible, probable, and desirable “energy futures”. The researchers use different methods like trend extrapolation, computer simulations, Delphi methods and (quantitative) surveys, scenarios, roadmaps, or expert interviews. This is accompanied by the use and further development of the cross-impact balance (CIB) approach.
Work in the research area Energy focuses on:
- Energetic and material use of biomass
- Innovative process engineering: Efficiency technologies – power to X – hydrogen
- Regional energy and material flow management
- Energy futures