Sustainability, Climate Protection, Reliability – Challenges for the Energy Industry, Politics, and Society

The energy industry, as we know it, with coal, oil and nuclear fuels as the primary sources of energy, will be fundamentally recreated over the next decades: not only is it widely acknowledged that these energy sources are running out, but it is also becoming more clear that the use of these energy sources is no longer acceptable because of their effects on the environment. 

Just how much coal, oil and gas are actually available is still widely debated. Decisions about the exploitation of many repositories depend not only on current market prices but also on ecopolitical and legal conditions, such as for the extremely pollutive exploitation of tar and oil-rich sand in Canada and in the case of fracking in natural gas productions. But the fact that the reserves are limited is indisputable, especially since mankind has used the energy sources up faster than they were created. The same is true for nuclear fuel (uranium). As a result, the global economy faces fluctuating, but overall rising prices and increasing competition for these resources. Moreover, market conditions are also influenced by geopolitical risks (for example, riots in North Africa and the Middle East, pirates threatening tanker routes). 

The contribution to atmospheric warming of the gases released as a result of using fossil energy sources since the start of industrialization is largely uncontested; equally indisputable is the fact that a simple “carry on” approach would be irresponsible towards our environment and with respect to the economic development of today’s emerging markets and the huge task of providing many people in poor countries with their first consistent access to (electrical) energy. A drastic reduction or prevention of climate-harming gas emissions is a goal agreed upon or accepted by many countries, even though the steps required to reach this goal and the global burden sharing are still discussed intensely.

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    Once you have been at the Hanse-Wissenschaftskolleg, you always want to come back.
    Dr. Kamal Hajian (Junior Fellow 2020)

    The change that we face in view of these circumstances, whether it takes place quickly or slowly, will have an impact comparable to that of industrialization and the start of the age of fossil fuels. Replacing conventional energy on a large scale with environmentally friendly electricity appears to be a practical and realistic scenario, coupled to a comprehensive (initial) electrification of large parts of the poorest countries. Depending on demand and the availability of energy sources, electricity production and supply will have centralized and decentralized structures. One remaining question that must be addressed by scientists, politicians and technicians equally, both within the scope of their research and in social discourse, is that addressing the preferable energy mix of the future: what role will fossil fuels, nuclear energy and renewable energies play in the future?

    As an interdisciplinary Institute for Advanced Study, the Hanse-Wissenschaftskolleg has devoted itself to these issues since the establishment of its fourth research area “Energy Research”. The Institute’s four research areas offer excellent conditions for disciplinary and interdisciplinary energy research in the scope of fellowships, conferences and projects. This constellation is intended to appeal to the most diverse disciplines: chemistry, physics, materials sciences, computer science, electrical engineering, earth sciences, and particularly also social, political and economic sciences, psychology, philosophy and law. 

    The HWK promotes, among others, projects addressing the following topics: 

    • Use of regenerative energies: higher efficiency, storage, distribution and grid integration
    • Energy efficiency, intelligent grid management (electromobility, supply-adjusted control of energy-hungry appliances, etc.)
    • Theoretical and experimental investigations related to the concept of energy (particle and gravitation physics)
    • Regenerative energies and the environment: for example, effects of the exploitation of resources, material flow in wind energy, changes in the landscape
    • New dependencies and geopolitical uncertainties through the expansion of regenerative energies?
    • Correlations between demographic change and changes in energy requirements and supply structures
    • Dealing with verified findings and with uncertainties in politics and society: communication of scientific results to the public

    The HWK encourages past and future Fellows to introduce new topics into the institute and the research landscape of Northwestern Germany.

    Regional Collaboration Partners (Selection)

    • University of Bremen
    • Carl von Ossietzky University Oldenburg
    • Jacobs University Bremen
    • Fraunhofer Institute IFAM, Bremen
    • Fraunhofer project group Component and Systems Design of Electrical Energy Storage in Oldenburg
    • DLR Institute of Networked Energy Systems
    • ForWind – Center for Wind Energy Research of the Universities Bremen, Hannover and Oldenburg
    • Research Training Group (Graduiertenkolleg) "Models of Gravity" at universities in Bremen and Oldenburg (and others)

    Applications in the Area ENERGY

    Check the eligibility criteria for applications in the research area ENERGY on our applications page and familiarize yourself with work and life at the Hanse-Wissenschaftskolleg on our overview pages.


    Dr. Michael Kastner
    Head of Program ENERGY