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Questions for Martin Robinius, head of the Energy System 2050 study

What do you make of the German Federal Government’s current climate protection programme in light of the results of your study?

Dr.-Ing. Martin RobiniusCopyright: Forschungszentrum Jülich / Ralf-Uwe Limbach

Some of the measures in the package are heading in the right direction – including those that promote more efficient use of energy in buildings and industry. Other measures, for example relating to the expansion of wind power, will not be enough. And finally, there are elements of the climate protection programme that contradict our findings, for instance regarding the future significance of biomass. This resource plays a crucial role in our models. According to our calculations, the area under cultivation for biomass needs to be doubled. The climate protection programme, by contrast, does not envisage any expansion of the area to be cultivated for bioenergy.

You have also optimized your plan for the German energy system to achieve a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions of just 80 % by 2050. What’s the result?

The total additional cost that would be incurred by 2050 adds up to approximately just a third of that incurred for a reduction of 95 %. However, the 80 % target will not be enough for Germany to satisfy the Paris Agreement, which is aimed at limiting global warming to well below 2 °C. Regardless, Germany should decide at an early stage which target it is working towards, as the corresponding transformation of the energy system is different for the two targets. For example, new natural-gas-fired power plants and heating technologies are economically beneficial for the emissions reduction of 80 %, but they will not enable the 95 % target to be reached. In the latter case, hydrogen technologies will be among the crucial factors.

Can we actually trust the computer models’ prediction of energy costs?

We believe so, yes. Computer models can’t see into the future – a technology may yet emerge that doesn’t even exist today – but we know the current energy system. Our models can display interactions within it. What’s more, our computer models take technological learning curves into account: the greater the number of units produced by, for example, an energy technology system, the lower the price per unit. We also analysed how much a result is affected if the variables are changed. For instance, we varied the cost of expanding wind power plants or hydrogen pipelines, and astonishingly, it had barely any effect on the composition of the ideal energy system.

Dr. Martin Robinius is head of department at the Institute of Energy and Climate Research – Techno-Economic Systems Analysis (IEK-3). He coordinates around 40 scientists, doctoral researchers, and master’s and bachelor’s students, who model, analyse, and evaluate techno-economic energy systems. He has been a visiting scientist at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in the USA, and began his career at the Fraunhofer Institute for Wind Energy Systems. He is a member of the board of directors of GEE, the German affiliate of the International Association for Energy Economics (IAEE). He is also a subtask leader at the International Energy Agency and a freelance consultant for the private and public sectors.

The questions were asked by Frank Frick.