Report on international energy research outlines other countries’ approaches to the future of energy
Berlin, 23 April 2020
How can we create an affordable, reliable and sustainable future energy supply? To answer this question, acatech – National Academy of Science and Engineering and the Federation of German Industries (BDI) have organised a series of fact-finding missions over the past few years, in which delegations of experts investigated how different industrialised nations are driving the transformation of their energy systems. Their findings have now been published in the project’s final report (only available in German), which also proposes cooperation with Australia and calls for a positive narrative for the energy transition.
The three fact-finding missions organised by acatech and the BDI since the end of 2016 revealed that countries such as the USA, China, South Korea, Japan and Australia are driven by very different motivations when it comes to transforming their own energy systems and determining the future direction of energy policy and energy research. As a result, different countries promote certain technologies from different angles. For example, South Korea is driving the research and development of batteries because it is poor in natural resources, whereas Australia has huge fossil fuel reserves but wants to reinvent itself primarily as an exporter of green energy. Meanwhile, Japan’s hydrogen strategy positions the country as a potential importer of this fuel. The speed with which research findings are translated into practical applications is a noticeable feature of the United States, despite the fact that climate change is currently low on the US policy agenda. As for China, it has made huge strides in the field of energy research. In the final report, the experts conclude that Chinese research in some applied fields is on a par with or even better than Western standards.
Based on their findings, the report’s authors have formulated the following policy recommendations for optimising energy research in Germany and successfully transforming the German energy system:
- Pool expertise, connect research initiatives and ensure central coordination of the energy transition
The authors recognise that the decentralised research system in Germany fosters competition and independent energy research. However, they conclude that it also causes a degree of know-how fragmentation in certain key technologies. In order to identify innovative research areas from an early stage and enable the strategic development of the relevant research topics, existing scientific and industrial research initiatives in Germany should be more closely coordinated and should receive targeted support.
- Continue to research a wide range of energy technologies, promoting technology neutrality and an open-ended approach
The authors argue that it is necessary to pursue every technology that could potentially contribute to delivering the emission reductions still required to meet national and European climate targets. Technologies that are particularly relevant in terms of international markets include sector coupling and Power-to-X technologies for producing green hydrogen, as well as CCUS technologies and electrochemical storage systems.
- Introduce continuous energy transition benchmarking in the G20 countries
In a very positive final verdict, the authors conclude that the fact-finding missions demonstrate the importance of continuous benchmarking of international developments in the energy sector. Consequently, they recommend that fact-finding missions to the G20 countries should be continued on a regular basis. This would enable ongoing identification of energy research best practices and make it possible to collate and evaluate energy policy measures, for instance with regard to carbon pricing.
- Promote international technology alliances and partnerships
The report concludes that international alliances in particular technology fields can help Germany to fill in the gaps in its systems expertise and access new markets. More specifically, the authors recommend strategic cooperation with Australia, which they identify as an ideal partner for a major, long-term collaboration covering the entire green hydrogen value chain.
- Continue to set a good example, showing others that it can be done
The authors observe that many countries put economic interests before energy and climate policy, often paying scant attention to the global impacts of national policies. On the other hand, Germany’s energy transition is held up as an example, especially outside of Europe. Germany must use this good reputation to show others that it really is possible to combine sustainability and profitability.
Project leader and acatech Member Robert Schlögl stresses the importance of this last recommendation: “Other countries are keeping a close eye on how Germany is implementing the energy transition and the topics we are researching. We are still regarded as a model – and we need to live up to this reputation by demonstrating that sustainability and profitability are not mutually exclusive. To do this, we need to rapidly implement successful, large-scale projects in order to create a positive narrative for the energy transition that is capable of surviving any future changes in the political landscape.”