Smart home automation systems help save energy.
Smart home automation systems help save energy. istock/Maxiphoto

Headline: Decarbonisation of the Energy System


This research area focuses on smart heating in private households, international experiences of coal phase-outs, and the contribution of methane leakages from natural gas networks to greenhouse gas emissions.

Smart heating

Private households are a major contributor to Germany's energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. The main energy-consuming application in private households is space heating. For years, energy-saving measures aimed at space heating have been implemented at an insufficient pace with respect to national energy conservation and greenhouse gas reduction targets. High investment costs and long payback times have been major barriers here. Our research focuses on the potential and implementation challenges of smart heating technologies, such as smart thermostats, in the residential building stock. There is a lack of theoretical and empirical evidence that verifies the energy-saving potential of smart thermostats on a large scale. The promise of such thermostats lies in their low investment costs, relatively short payback times, and the minimal implementation efforts required. Yet data security concerns and fears of losing control pose challenges to implementation.

International experience of coal phase-outs

In Germany, the coal phase-out remains a challenge. Coal power plants are responsible for more than one third of the country's total greenhouse gas emissions. While preliminary measures to reduce the share of coal in power generation have been implemented, there is still uncertainty and controversy about the timing of the reduction and phase-out of coal-based power generation in the medium to long term. Other countries that used to rely strongly on coal are already much further along the phase-out track. The strategies they employ differ according to economic and political contexts. Given the political desire and scientific need to rapidly accelerate efforts to reduce CO2 emissions worldwide, it is hugely important to analyse the experiences of coal phase-out countries to see what general lessons can be learned from these specific cases. This project investigates coal phase-outs in the UK, Ontario, and Alberta (Canada) to identify key mechanisms, obstacles and drivers, and - if possible - derive policy recommendations that can be applied in Germany and beyond.

Methane leakage from natural gas networks

Natural gas plays a central role in debates about how to achieve a low-carbon future. It is generally regarded as a climate friendly option in comparison with other fossil fuels. In terms of CO2 emissions, this view is apparently justified: Natural gas emits only about half the amount of CO2 that coal does during combustion. However, methane leakages are often underestimated or even. They occur at many different points along the supply chain: from well drilling and production to processing, transportation, and distribution. Methane leakages could substantially increase the overall climate footprint of natural gas since methane has a far greater global warming potential than CO2. While methane emissions are very harmful for the climate, they can be reduced at relatively low costs. In our research, we identify the best strategies for reducing methane emissions from natural gas and show their potential cost savings vis-à-vis other CO2 reduction measures.