Stuttgart Research Initiative Will Support Energy Transformation in Local Communities

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Within the DiTEnS project, the HLRS visualization team will enhance its digital twin of the University of Stuttgart to help identify strategies for making the campus carbon neutral.

As a participant in the Stuttgart Research Initiative “Discursive Transformation of Energy Systems“ (DiTEnS), HLRS will use digital twins to improve the processes needed to make urban energy systems climate neutral.

The European Union’s Climate Target Plan and Germany’s Climate Change Act have set ambitious goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions in Europe. The EU aims to achieve climate neutrality by 2050, while Germany has set 2045 as its goal. The State of Baden-Württemberg has even set out to achieve this target for state-owned facilities by 2030. For these efforts to be successful, it will be important to achieve climate neutrality not only in the energy sector, but also especially in heating.

One important issue that must be addressed to reach this goal is to cut emissions that result from the heating of buildings, which is currently responsible for approximately one-fifth of greenhouse gas emissions and consumes about one-third of electricity in Germany. Increasing efficiency in buildings and shifting to renewable energy sources for modern heating infrastructures are not just technological challenges, but also community-based activities. Many different kinds of stakeholders — including energy providers, homeowners, renters, the building trades, heating technology manufacturers, and others — each contribute perspectives and interests that need to be considered.

A successful energy transformation is not something that will happen from the top down, especially because every location is different and requires a customized solution. In addition, even the best efforts of individual stakeholders will have limited impact if they are not effectively integrated into the overall system. Making real progress in driving the process of energy transformation forward will require coordinated, personalized solutions involving many different parties. For many municipalities and stakeholders, however, the technical, economic, and social dimensions of this effort pose major challenges.

A new, multidisciplinary research initiative just announced by the University of Stuttgart aims to support communities and relevant stakeholders in making this transition. The Stuttgart Research Initiative (SRI) DiTEnS (Discursive Transformation of Energy Systems) will bring together researchers at the High-Performance Computing Center Stuttgart (HLRS) with scientists in multiple University of Stuttgart research institutes to develop a methodology and set of technologies for planning the development of energy transformation. Using modern algorithms based on artificial intelligence and scientific visualization, it will support discursive processes that bring together stakeholders needed to implement energy transformation at the local level.

DiTEnS is funded in part by a six-year grant of approximately five million Euros from the Carl Zeiss Foundation (CZS) as part of its CZS Breakthroughs Program in Resource Efficiency and Future Energy Systems. The University of Stuttgart will contribute additional funding, and will establish a permanent research initiative and a graduate education program in the field. Prof. Dr.-Ing. Kai Hufendiek of the University of Stuttgart’s Institute of Energy Economics and Rational Energy Use (IER) will serve as spokesperson for SRI DiTEnS, which will be led by a collegial board of directors.

Digital twins support collective decision making

The interdisciplinary team involved in DiTEnS brings together expertise in energy systems, building energetics, computer simulation, and the social sciences to develop a flexible model that not only addresses technical challenges, but also economic, ecological, and social aspects, as well as optical and aesthetic concerns.

In the first steps undertaken in DiTEnS, researchers from the Institute of Energy Economics and Rational Energy Use, the Institute of Power Transmission and High Voltage Technology (IEH), the Institute for Building Energetics, Thermotechnology, and Energy Storage (IGTE), the High-Performance Computing Center Stuttgart, and the Center for Interdisciplinary Risk and Innovation Studies (ZIRIUS) will develop methods for efficiently investigating complex conditions in specific streetscapes and neighborhoods, and will help to identify customized, climate neutral options for energy transformation in these locations. The scientists will develop realistic, dynamic simulations that capture dependencies between buildings and infrastructure, from the regional level down to individual buildings. The approach will help to determine what opportunities community leaders, property owners, and other stakeholders might have for utilizing renewable energy; improving energy efficiency; making use of intelligent networks, available waste heat, electromobility, and energy storage technologies; and implementing a more flexible approach to managing energy demand.

Scientists in HLRS’s Visualization Department led by Dr. Uwe Wössner will then use the results of these models to develop a so-called digital twin of building and energy systems within their urban contexts. Digital twins are highly detailed, multiscale models of towns, cities, or regions that integrate both visible and invisible features of the environment, such as air pollution, noise, or air currents. When simulated in virtual reality in an interactive 3D visualization facility like the HLRS CAVE, digital twins make it much easier to demonstrate complex systems such as a town’s energy and building infrastructure. This can make it easier to understand, for example, how changes implemented to achieve climate neutrality at a specific location or within a complete system will affect buildings, neighborhoods, or city districts, including their networked operation within the complete system.

“Just telling people they need to put more solar panels on the roof is never going to work,” Wössner explains. “Moreover, every community is different in terms of the conditions of its local building stock, the opportunities or limitations it might have in terms of renewable energy and heating, and social characteristics of the local population. Simulation makes it possible to present scenarios based on the best possible data, providing a fact-based foundation that community leaders and other affected stakeholders can use for negotiation and collective decision making.”

With expertise of ZIRIUS Director Prof. Dr. Cordula Kropp, DiTEnS will also use perspectives from the social sciences to develop recommendations for a successful energy and heat transition together with the various stakeholder groups, including how to build bridges between technical possibilities and their individual implementation. These efforts will be crucial for the success of energy-saving measures. The project will promote interdisciplinary dialogue to reduce conflict among participants with differing requirements and promote shared perspectives.

From university to community

The University of Stuttgart has set itself the goal of becoming climate neutral by the year 2030. To support this transformation, DiTEnS will begin early next year with a study to comprehensively understand the university’s energy and building infrastructure, and to recommend potential steps that could be taken. Among the questions the investigators will consider will be how excess heat generated by HLRS’s supercomputer could be reused to heat other buildings and what additional measures would need to be taken in the university’s district heating network and in buildings. This effort will be able to start quickly, as it builds upon a campus model that the HLRS visualization team produced under the framework of the MobiLab project, as well as the results of an existing E-Campus concept for a climate neutral energy system. In MobiLab HLRS has been working with project partners to develop a concept for an automobile free, zero-emissions campus. Within E-Campus the IER identified transformation options for a climate-neutral energy supply for the university’s facilities in Stuttgart-Vaihingen.

Using the knowledge gained, DiTEnS will also conduct additional case studies, working with communities surrounding Stuttgart and across Baden-Württemberg to investigate other strategies for sustainable transformation of urban energy systems, and for using digital twins within participatory planning processes. Ultimately, the researchers look forward to helping to accelerate Germany’s energy transformation and enhance its ability to realize its climate and sustainability goals.

As Wössner explains, “Of course, it won’t be possible for us in this project to develop an energy plan for every community in Germany, but the system that we develop should make it much easier for neighborhoods and communities to analyze and simulate scenarios that are relevant to them, and to contribute in solving a global challenge that we all face.”

Christopher Williams