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Dr Frank Heidrich, Directorate Head in the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy, invited the participants to submit future-based topics on flexible energy conversion to the 7th Energy Research Programme, which is currently being prepared, and to initiate discussions.
© BINE Informationsdienst
Flexible Energy Conversion research network

Taking part in the panel discussion were (from left) Dr Dietmar Keller (RWE Power AG), Professor Alfons Kather (Hamburg University of Technology), Professor Robert Pitz-Paal (DLR), Matthias Zelinger (VDMA) and Professor Walter Leitner (RWTH Aachen University).
© BINE Informationsdienst

The future of power plants

The "Flexible Energy Conversion" research network was founded in Berlin at the end of February 2017. Here, researchers and developers from the conventional power plant technology and solar thermal power plant fields will jointly develop future strategies. The goals: To increase the flexibility of large-scale power plants, develop new large-scale storage systems, extensively research the use of hydrogen in power plant processes and in particular optimise the economic efficiency of solar power plants.

About 150 experts participated in the founding event for the new Flexible Energy Conversion research network, which was held at the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy in Berlin. Half of them came from industry and the other half from research facilities and universities. In addition to conventional power plant technology, the new network thematically encompasses solar thermal power plants and large-scale thermal storage systems. This is therefore the first time that all thermal power plant technologies are combined under one roof. Dr Frank Heidrich, Directorate Head in the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy, welcomed the participants and identified three major challenges for the energy sector by the year 2050: decarbonisation, the ongoing development towards decentralisation, and digitisation. Heidrich explained: "The preparations for the 7th Energy Research Programme have begun. The aim of today's event is to garner ideas and topic proposals from the experts gathered here."

Right from the start, the new network can build on a solid knowledge base that has been developed in recent years for conventional power plant technology and solar thermal power plants. Dr Rodoula Tryfonidou, Head of Energy Research Strategies and Policy Issues at the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy, in particular thanked the participating institutes and companies from the COORETEC funding initiative and Turbo AG, who have produced important findings in this regard for many years. “Today, we are concerned with a new role for modern power plant technology in future energy systems. I'm delighted that so many industry representatives are taking part. Market signals are of considerable importance for applied energy research," emphasised Tryfonidou.

In the subsequent panel discussion, Dr Dietmar Keller (RWE Power AG), Professor Alfons Kather (Hamburg University of Technology), Professor Robert Pitz-Paal (German Aerospace Centre), Matthias Zelinger (Mechanical Engineering Industry Association) and Professor Walter Leitner (RWTH Aachen University) discussed the future of power plants from very different perspectives. The plenary discussion focussed on the conceptual and technological objectives of the new research network: the new central task of conventional power plants for the future is to support the fluctuating renewable energies through providing greater flexibility and improved partial load behaviour. Key approaches here include the development of large-scale renewable storage systems, greater fuel flexibility, improved materials and comprehensive research into the use of renewably produced hydrogen in power plant technology, especially with power-to-X technologies.
In terms of partial load capacity and flexibility, the global market has similar technological requirements for new power plants as the national market.

Excellent prospects for linking sectors

Closer sectoral links between conventional power plants on the one hand and the chemical industry and transport on the other open up new possibilities for greater energy efficiency, whereby synthetic fuels and chemical base materials could be produced here. For a transitional period, some of the carbon dioxide produced could then be incorporated into new products after it is separated in power plants. Synthetic fuels would, for example, be of particular interest to air traffic, which is also expected to be dependent on liquid fuels in the medium term. Economically, the ongoing optimisation of the carbon cycle in goods production remains an issue in the long term.

Making solar thermal power plants competitive

Solar thermal power plants operate almost exclusively in sunny countries. There they have to be economically viable in comparison with competing power generation technologies. Since 2007, the cost of solar thermal power plants has already fallen by 60 per cent and their international competitiveness with rival systems is within reach. German companies are among the global technological leaders and, with their products, have up to 40 per cent involvement in many of the already constructed power plants. All forecasts indicate that the global market for solar thermal power plants will grow considerably in the future.

Large thermal storage systems have already been used for years with solar thermal power plants so that the plants can also be used after sunset for generating electricity. This knowledge will help provide the necessary increase in flexibility of the conventional power plant fleet.

Energy research network – a new research policy instrument

"Flexible Energy Conversion" is now the seventh energy research network to have started its work. This complements the already existing networks for buildings and districts, system analysis, electricity networks, renewable energies, biomass as well as industry and commerce.

These research networks provide open platforms enabling experts from companies, institutes and universities to discuss research topics and new formats in these fields. They are supporting the strategic discussions on the direction of the research funding and are intended to accelerate the transfer of results into commercial energy applications. They are therefore contributing to the transparency required in the 6th Energy Research Programme.

Through the networks, experts can currently submit their topic proposals and suggestions for the 7th Energy Research Programme and initiate discussions.



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Contact for the Flexible Energy Conversion research network

Dr Heiko Gerhauser
Project Management Jülich
Tel: 02461 61 96830
Email: h.gerhauser(at)fz-juelich.de

Dr Tarik Schwarzer
Project Management Jülich
Tel: 02461 61 9157
Email: t.schwarzer(at)fz-juelich.de