19 September 2018 | updated: 27.10.2021

The Federal Cabinet has adopted the new, 7th Energy Research Programme "Innovations for the Energy Transition". The programme replaces its predecessor from 2011. In terms of content, it follows on from the successes of previous years, sets new priorities and defines focal points for research funding and innovation policy in the energy sector. For the years 2018 - 2022, the Federal Government has earmarked a budget of 6.4 billion euros for energy research. The corresponding funding announcement is currently being prepared.

The 7th Energy Research Programme is the result of an extensive, upstream consultation process involving actors from associations and companies, research and science organisations, members of research networks and representatives of the Länder. The programme adopts a new approach of a cross-departmental, topic-oriented programme structure in order to meet the challenges of energy system transformation and the complex dynamics of innovations in the energy sector. In addition to the Federal Ministry of Economics and Energy (BMWi), the Federal Ministries of Education and Research (BMBF) and Food and Agriculture (BMEL) have been involved in preparing the programme. The budget for energy research will increase by 45% over the comparable period 2013 - 2017 in the period 2018 - 2022, to 6.4 billion euros.

Four basic guidelines for the new energy research policy

  • For the ambitious goals of the energy transition, the transfer of technology and innovation must be accelerated. To this end, "real laboratories of the energy transition" will be introduced as a new programme pillar. They support the innovation process from technology development to market preparation with a holistic approach. This should make it easier for young companies in particular to access the programme. Real energy transition laboratories have a pioneering character and address issues that play a key role in implementation. These include, for example, sector coupling technologies, large thermal storage facilities, technologies for CO2 utilisation or the intelligent networking of energy infrastructures in climate-neutral urban districts.
  • Away from the previous concentration of research funding on individual technologies, project funding will be expanded to include systemic and cross-system issues of energy system transformation. Objectives include the stronger integration of renewable energies, especially in the building sector, the more efficient use of energy in the consumption sector, energy-efficient industrial processes and the CO2 cycle economy. Interfaces to the transport sector, energy system analysis, energy-relevant aspects of digitisation, resource efficiency, materials research and social aspects will be taken into account.
  • The new energy research programme supports better networking of institutional research funding and project funding.
  • The international and European networking of research activities will be supported. At the European level, the SET-Plan defines comprehensive measures for energy innovations, from research to market launch. At the global level, these are the technology cooperation programmes of the IEA; further cooperation is to be expanded.

Interdepartmental, topic-oriented program structure

The Federal Government has recognised that the previous thematic delimitation does not do justice to the dynamic development in the energy sector. The new interdepartmental and theme-oriented programme structure is based on the concept of the EU Framework Programme "Horizon 2020" and divides projects into technological maturity levels. This so-called Technology Readiness Level (TRL) indicates the scientific and technical status of a technology on a scale of 1 to 9. In principle, projects that aim to achieve the TRL 1 to 3 as a development objective and are thus to be assigned to application-oriented basic research are funded by the BMBF. The Federal Ministry of Economics and Technology is responsible for application-oriented research work starting with TRL 3. The BMEL promotes topic-specific, application-oriented research work on the energetic use of biomass starting with TRL 3. The real laboratories are assigned to the TRLs from 7 to 9, since they are intended to promote developments close to the market.

Strategic goals of the energy research policy

  • Promote energy transition: Funding will be provided for innovative, holistic solutions to the challenges of the energy transition in order to rapidly introduce these technologies and concepts to the market. A broad funding approach along the entire energy chain with a focus on the transfer of results should support this path.
  • Strengthening the industrial location: Trends such as digitisation are to be taken up, technological competencies in the energy sector maintained and export opportunities improved.
  • Risk prevention for society as a whole: Since climate and environmental impacts do not stop at national borders, highly efficient and renewable energy technologies and system solutions must also be developed with a view to providing solutions to problems worldwide.

New actors in energy transition

Startups are given high priority in the new research program. They are to act as innovation drivers in the development of innovative technological solutions and open up new markets with innovative and sometimes unconventional products, services and business models. Thus, they are an important driving force behind the energy transition. The new funding format for real laboratories enables start-ups to test their newly developed, often almost market-ready products within a flexible framework. Non-technical innovations, such as business models or new services, an accelerated application procedure and the Energy Start-ups research network networking platform are intended to enable young companies to become better involved in energy research.