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Energy, Resources and Sustainability

A holistic, international approach to climate protection

The energy transition is no longer quite the German success story that it once was. Greenhouse gas emissions are stagnating at a high level and there is a lack of effective strategies to bring them down. Germany is in danger of missing its own climate targets. But it is not just the German government that is struggling to get its energy and climate policy back on track. As Federal Minister for the Environment Barbara Hendricks stressed at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Bonn in November 2017, all the world’s nations must ramp up their efforts to meet the targets of the Paris Agreement.

This will call for a change of course in our energy policy. To make our energy system climate-friendly, we will need to rebuild it based on a holistic approach. This is the key objective of the Academies’ Project “Energy Systems of the Future” (ESYS), in which acatech is the lead institution. This joint initiative of acatech, Leopoldina and the Union of the German Academies of Sciences and Humanities launched its own project website in 2017.

acatech supports efforts towards a sustainable, secure and affordable energy supply through a variety of projects and events. The energy transition does not stop at national borders. Consequently, at the end of 2016 acatech and the Federation of German Industries (BDI) launched the project “Pathways into the energy future. The transformation of energy systems in an international perspective”.

Metals – the raw materials of the energy transition

If the energy transition succeeds, our consumption of coal, oil and natural gas will fall. At the same time, however, we will need to import increasing quantities of metals for the development of wind farms, solar plants, storage systems and smart grids. These include valuable elements such as rare earths, the platinum group elements, germanium, indium and cobalt. To avoid becoming over-dependent on raw material imports, Germany needs a sustainable raw materials strategy that includes its domestic resources. Corresponding strategies were formulated in the position paper “Raw materials for the energy transition. Securing a reliable and sustainable supply”, published by the Academies’ Project ESYS in March 2018. The accompanying analysis describes the mechanisms that affect the global raw materials markets and identifies supply risks.


“The exploitation of new deposits in Germany and the rest of Europe, as well as in the deep sea, would serve to increase the raw material base. For instance, Germany has deposits of indium and germanium, while reserves of metals such as cobalt, copper and nickel are present in the seabed. The economically viable exploitation of these resources will require better research into the environmental impacts and further development of extraction and processing technologies.”

Member of the ESYS “Resources” Working Group Jens Gutzmer (Helmholtz-Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf), on the publication of the position paper „Rohstoffe für die Energiewende“.


Consumers as actors in the energy transition

One strategy for creating a sustainable energy system is to use less energy. However, saving energy will require changes in our behaviour, for example adjusting electricity demand to the fluctuating feed-in from wind and solar energy sources. Published in March 2017, the ESYS position paper “Consumer policy for the energy transition” investigates how consumers can be motivated to use less energy in their everyday lives. For example, they can flexibly adjust their electricity demand by making use of the battery storage capacity of photovoltaic systems or electric cars.

Resilience: the security concept for our future energy supply

It is not just the general public that expects a stable electricity supply at all times – security of supply is also critical to industry. But modern, digitally controlled energy systems are vulnerable. Published in May 2017, the ESYS position paper “A resilient design of the energy system” describes how blackouts can be avoided, for example in the event of attacks by hackers or terrorists or extreme weather conditions. In the accompanying analysis, six scenarios illustrate how specific events can trigger chain reactions.

A new direction for the energy transition: sector coupling technologies

The ESYS position paper and analysis on “sector coupling” published in November 2017 describe how the electricity, heating and transport sectors are converging and can be optimised through an integrated approach. This will be key to the creation of a climate-friendly, secure and affordable energy system. acatech, Leopoldina and the Union of the German Academies of Sciences and Humanities advocate a cross-sectoral effective CO2 price, together with a significant increase in the share of renewable energy in the power supply. They also calculate the economic costs of a sustainable energy transition.

Towards climate-friendly mobility: a considered approach to path dependencies

A new direction is also required with regard to mobility – in recent years, emissions in the transport sector have risen rather than fallen. Consequently, our towns, cities and local communities need innovative mobility strategies. However, if local authorities have already chosen and invested in a particular solution, it can sometimes be difficult for them to change. This results in path dependencies. Published in December 2017, the ESYS analysis “Path dependencies in the energy transition. The example of mobility” sets out a range of decision-making strategies.

A dialogue with ESYS

How can the electricity, heating and transport sectors be more closely integrated? Which technologies and energy sources do we need to make the energy transition successful? How expensive will it be and how can the costs be contained? Experts from academia, industry and government discussed these and other questions together with the results of the ESYS project at the ESYS annual conference Energie.System.Wende. in Berlin in November 2017.

At the Energie.System.Wende. event in Berlin on 14 November 2017, moderator Volker Gustedt (centre) discussed practical implementation solutions and barriers to sector coupling with Jochen Kreusel (ABB), Hans-Martin Henning (Fraunhofer ISE), Julia Verlinden (Alliance 90/The Greens), Karen Pittel (ifo Institute) (left to right) and members of the public.


The “Trialogs on the energy transition” of the HUMBOLDT-VIADRINA Governance Platform facilitate a dialogue between experts from government, industry and NGOs. Members of the ESYS project participated in three trialogs on different subjects related to the energy transition. The participants discussed ways of setting the path for climate-friendly urban mobility, the governance regulation of the European Energy Union, and how to make digital energy infrastructure more resilient.

Climate protection: carbon storage and utilisation

The utilisation (carbon capture and utilisation CCU) and storage (carbon capture and storage CCS) of carbon dioxide from industrial processes can help to close the gap between climate targets and current emissions. Consequently, in November 2017, a coalition of research institutions, foundations and environmental organisations called on the Federal Government to investigate the use of CCU and CCS during the next parliament. This appeal was made as a result of the project “Technological solutions for the greenhouse gas neutrality (decarbonisation) of industry”, which was coordinated by acatech.

A sharper focus on the international dimension of energy research and innovation

The energy transition is a global project. acatech and the Federation of German Industries (BDI) are carrying out the joint project “Pathways into the energy future. The transformation of energy systems in an international perspective” to investigate how selected G20 countries are transforming their energy systems and what Germany can learn from them. Fact finding missions comprising representatives of government, academia, industry, civil society and the media are visiting different parts of the world where the energy transition is being put into practice. The first delegation travelled to the USA in April 2017, while the second trip, this time to Asia, is planned for spring 2018. The results will be presented at an international conference in autumn 2018.

During their trip to the USA in April 2017, delegates visited a variety of sites, including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge, USA.


acatech projects in the thematic field of Energy, Resources and Sustainability in 2017

Ongoing projects  
Energy Systems of the Future (Phase II) March 2016 – Feb. 2019
Geothermal technologies in metropolitan areas: A contribution to the energy transition and climate protection Jan. 2017 – Oct. 2018
Technological solutions for the greenhouse gas neutrality (decarbonisation) of industry June 2016 – July 2018
Pathways into the energy future. The transformation of energy systems in an international perspective Dec. 2016 – Nov. 2018