The Revolution of Energy Systems

I firmly believe that climate change is one of the biggest challenges facing mankind and this has once again been confirmed by the actual special report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Indeed, much has already been done in terms of reducing CO2 emissions and slowing down global warming, but many issues are still unresolved.

A guest commentary by Prof. Armin Schnettler, Senior Vice President Corporate Technology, Research in Energy and Electronics, Siemens AG.

Never before has the use of renewable energies increased as quickly as it is today. According to the Renewables 2018 Global Status Report renewables accounted for an estimated 70% of net additions to global power capacity in 2017 – an all time record. For energy systems around the globe the growth in wind turbines, solar systems and hydropower plants means above all one thing: revolutionary changes. At the same time the price of renewable power is falling – the magic limit of 2 US cents has already long been cracked in solar parks for example in Mexico or the Middle East and it is assumed that the prices will continue to fall.

It is open for discussion, however, how energy systems should look, so that power, of which over 60 or 70 percent has come from renewable sources, can be fed into the grid. How can the complexity of the system be managed, a system which is characterized by several million decentralized generators? Today there is no final answer to this question. It is therefore all the more important to reduce the uncertainties regarding future energy systems. As a result we have digitalized the complete current energy system in Germany together with its developments and mapped it into complex simulation models. In order to initiate the correct development projects in terms of time and content, we have to be able to estimate how energy systems and markets will change in the future so that the future solutions will be suitable for the new technical and commercial requirements. The basis for the evaluation is several million data records from studies and databases which provide information on the consumption and energy efficiency of buildings, businesses or industrial companies for example, and also include hourly electrical and thermal load profiles.

The most important findings of our investigation are the following four hypotheses:

  1. The increasing integration of fluctuating renewable energy will only succeed if the network can be expanded and large storage systems developed.
  2. The transformation from conventional generators to flexible power plants with a low CO2 footprint in close cooperation with the volatile electricity producers will guarantee supply reliability and system stability.
  3. In the medium and long term, the individual energy systems for electricity, heating/cooling, gas and mobility will grow ever more closely together into one overall system and will even have completely new supply structures.
  4. Energy efficiency is paramount in reducing the demand for energy along the entire value chain.

It is my argument that only in this way will we succeed in mastering the threat of climate change!


Prof. Dr.-Ing Armin Schnettler

Picture credits: from top: 1. picture NASA

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