Sector coupling: from electricity to energy transition

One of the greatest and at the same time most urgent challenges of our time is the significant reduction of existing greenhouse gas emissions. 87 percent of climate-damaging greenhouse gases come from the combustion of fossil fuels such as coal, oil and gas. They are produced not only in the generation of electricity, but also in the production of heat and fuels needed for all our living and working environments: in private households and in industry, in residential buildings and in the workplace, in passenger transport and in the transportation of goods.

With its resolutions on the Climate Action Program 2030, the German government has created the cornerstones for achieving its climate targets and defined Germany's contribution to limiting greenhouse gas emissions worldwide. The task now is to translate these targets into concrete measures.

Up until now, the decarbonization of electricity generation has played the dominant role in the energy transition. But in the future, the switch to climate-neutral energy sources must also be extended to the heating and mobility sectors, as well as to industry, if climate protection targets are to be achieved and global warming slowed.

This is why so-called sector coupling - the linking of electricity, heat, mobility and industrial processes in terms of energy technology and the energy industry - plays a decisive role on the path to climate neutrality.

In the Northern German Living Lab, new approaches to sector coupling are being tested and innovative technologies are being considered in an integrated manner to holistically shape the necessary transformation of our energy system. The particular focus is on industrial transformation, however; sustainable solutions for heat supply in residential areas and for the transport and mobility sector are also being developed in the NRL.

Hydrogen as an Energy Carrier

An essential building block for the energy transition is the electrification of as many areas of life as possible. However, the direct use of renewably generated electricity is not possible in all areas in an efficient manner. That's why more CO2-free alternatives to the fossil fuels currently in use are needed. Gaseous and liquid energy sources, which are already an integral part of the energy system in the industrialized country of Germany, offer considerable opportunities for defossilization. The use of hydrogen is becoming an important key technology here: CO2-free hydrogen - i.e. "green" hydrogen from electrolysis plants that use only electricity from renewable energy - has a central role to play in cutting emissions that are harmful to the climate.

Its decarbonization potential lies both in its direct use as an alternative energy carrier for chemical and industrial processes as well as in its indirect use through conversion into synthetic gases such as methane or into fuels. Hydrogen production can also help stabilize the power system and provide flexibility needed at short notice to balance fluctuations in the power grid - a useful complement to the use of battery storage and targeted Demand Side Management. Its long-term storage capability in the gas grid and in gas caverns also enables time-delayed use when needed.

Alongside electricity from renewable sources, hydrogen - generated from green electricity - will consequently be the central energy carrier for completing the energy transition.

Funding Program

In its 7th energy research program, the German government established the Energy Transition Living Labs as a new funding format. They enable innovative technologies to be tested in practical applications under real conditions and on an industrial scale.

Former German Economics Minister Peter Altmaier first announced a competition for ideas for the energy transition living labs in February 2019. The competition attracted 90 consortia with over 500 partners from industry and research. On July 18th 2019, the winning consortia were announced – including the Northern German Living Lab (NRL).

The NRL is funded by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Action (BMWK) with approximately 55 million euros. Additional funding is provided by the Federal Ministry for Digital and Transport (BMDV). Including this funding, the investment volume of the participating partners amounts to around 405 million euros.