Renewable technologies of Fraunhofer ISE and future goals for Germany as a whole
After experiencing a typical lunch environment for the Fraunhofer employees – which involves outdoor seating, delicious cuisine, and socialization time – we had the opportunity to see some of institute’s technological inventions. When it comes to technology, Fraunhofer’s focus is on expanding electricity to all aspects of life, maximizing energy efficiency, improving devices, minimizing the cost of devices, and developing new devices to expand renewables. Employees explained fuel cells, batteries for cars, induction car chargers, and different types of devices that converted light and infrared to energy. One example of how the company improved their devices was apparent in their solar panels: a change in panel material and circuitry made it possible for solar panels to convert light to electricity within 45 seconds rather than the original conversion rate of 12 minutes! As we walked through the displayed technology, several of the company’s labs were visible, and we had the opportunity to see the general work environment at Fraunhofer. Additionally, after the indoor tour we saw both an electric and hydrogen car and their fueling stations.
In the future, electric cars are expected to take the place of fuel powered cars, and for that reason I would like to write a bit about the car technology from the company. The induction car technology and electric cars have the potential to have multiple uses. First, let me explain a bit about the chargers: induction car chargers are spiral-shaped metal devices that are placed in parking spots and used to charge electric cars. During the day, the electric car is charged. When the car returns back to the owner’s home, the energy left in the car can be used to power the owner’s home, and for that reason the car serves multiple purposes. Outside the lab, we examined an employee’s electric car. The institute has a charging station, so it was possible for the employee to charge their car during the day. The specific electric car could travel up to 200 km in the summer and 100 km in the winter: the distance the car could travel depended heavily on the outdoor temperature. The employee’s car was actually an older version of electric cars, and the newer cars can travel up to 400 km in the summer and 200 km in the winter.
After learning about Fraunhofer’s technologies, we heard a bit about the institute’s vision for the future of Germany. Germany’s Energiewende project aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050. As of last year, the world reached a 1.5°C increase in temperature, and over the course of the past 20-25 years sea levels have risen by about 10 cm. These changes can be viewed as national security threats; rising sea levels cause the relocation of coastal communities and global climate change leads to weather uncertainty which in turn can destroy crops. With these global changes in mind, Fraunhofer generated graphs and goals for Germany. One graph demonstrated that if Germany continues on its current track of implementing renewable energy sources it will only reduce carbon emissions by 60%, rather than its goal of 80%. To address this issue, Fraunhofer created an hour by hour simulation of Germany’s energy usage from 2014-2050 and considered how older infrastructure could be replaced to increase energy and heat efficiency. A chart that demonstrated how much energy was needed from certain renewable energy sources from now until 2050 was also created. Based on the chart, most of Germany’s energy in the future will come from onshore wind and solar energy. Fraunhofer also generated a graph that showed the optimum combination between wind a solar energy. Currently, Germany is slightly off of the optimal path; there will need to be an increase in solar energy to meet the ideal path. Overall, the graphs and ideas generated by Fraunhofer are important for the country as a whole. With a goal that is so far in the future – such as the 2050 goal of reducing emissions – it is easy to forget that the effort put into each year is important, and the graphs help to give Germany yearly goals in addition to its overall goals.
The major steps that Germany is taking to reduce greenhouse gas emissions demonstrate the importance of working to reduce global climate change. At the end of the presentation, a few of us chatted about how Germany cannot be the only country in the world to make changes to reduce emissions. In the grand scheme of things, Germany is a relatively small country, and it will be important for other countries around the world to join their effort to prevent global climate change.