Accompanying research: a quality control and support instrument for the e-energy programme
The e-energy programme is a multifaceted innovation programme in which government and business are working together to develop the sustainable energy systems of tomorrow. Some of the programme's primary goals are (i) to produce generalisable knowledge, (ii) to create networks that facilitate the rapid exchange of newly acquired expertise, and (iii) to build effective structures of interdisciplinary, transregional co-operation. The development of technical solutions and new business models also means finding answers to important cross-cutting questions involving data protection and data security, legal frameworks, and standardisation.
To this end, the Federal Ministry of Economics and Technology has formed an "Accompanying Research" unit that is tasked with monitoring progress in the model regions, ensuring the interoperability of technical solutions, and facilitating the exchange of knowledge. The accompanying research unit will establish networks of expertise in order to ensure that the programme's findings are disseminated as widely as possible. The unit's overall objective is to pool the results of the various model regions' R&D efforts into a joint success for Germany and to present Germany as a hub of innovation in the field of ICT-based energy systems. As part of these efforts, it organises major events such as the annual e-energy congress and presents the e-energy programme at national and international events.
In order to bolster the e-energy programme's success, the accompanying research unit facilitates networking processes between actors from the model regions and helps them exploit synergies. Issue-specific task forces - which are organised and supervised by the accompanying research team over the four-year time span of the project - constitute a key instrument for promoting these networks and synergies. The task forces focus on the following overriding issues:
- Systems architecture
- Legal framework
- Market cultivation
Collaboration within the framework of task forces helps to ensure the interoperability of the ICT-based components that are developed for the e-energy programme - i.e. that these components function properly throughout the entire system. In the words of Ludwig Karg, CEO of B.A.U.M Consult and head of the accompanying research unit: "Together, we are making sure that user-friendly business models and fee structures are established that bring real benefits to both providers and consumers, and that the overall system boosts the use of renewable energy sources. Within an ICT-based energy system, this can work only if the system encompasses many market participants who share data with each other. And these data must be protected - this is one of the key issues being addressed by the task forces."
Together with partners from the model regions, the accompanying research team also operates a knowledge management platform in order to ensure that the task forces can co-operate effectively and to make sure that all partners have up-to-date access to the findings and solutions that have been developed jointly within the framework of the programme. The knowledge management platform gives registered experts access to relevant studies, the latest international developments in the field, and the e-energy programme calendar.
Scientific experts evaluate the solutions developed by the model regions from the perspectives of both energy technology and information/communication technology. Teams headed by Dr. Thomas Hartkopf of the Technical University of Darmstadt and Dr. Manfred Broy of the Technical University of Munich conduct objective evaluations of the progress achieved by the individual model regions. These evaluations help the regions to fine-tune their efforts. Furthermore, as stated by Dr. Hartkopf: "Our evaluations help to ensure fair competition, so that those solutions are promoted which best advance the central priority of energy efficiency".
On the basis of (i) task force findings, (ii) evaluations of accomplishments in the model regions, and (iii) studies on national and international developments in relevant fields, the accompanying research unit will identify best practices in the field and thereby provide continuous, fresh impetus to the projects. For example, one of the most important cross-cutting questions involves user acceptance of the new services. The task force on market cultivation is working to identify barriers that could hinder consumers from taking full advantage of e-energy products and services. For Michael Wedler, head of the task force on market cultivation, "These findings will help companies in the energy and ICT sectors to develop tailor-made solutions that fit users' needs".