April 12, 2011
It is thus a matter of extreme urgency that the future course be set for our energy system in a way that enables us to meet these challenges effectively. Unfortunately, global and national energy systems are very sluggish, and changes to supply or consumption structures require considerable periods of time to implement. The coal-fired power plants built now will still be in operation in 2050. The effects also only make themselves felt in the long-term: our planet reacts slowly to changes in the composition of the atmosphere - which means it will take decades or even centuries for the success of our energy system’s reorientation to become evident.
What role can research play in the reorientation of our energy system, in particular basic research, which is typical of the work carried out by the Max Planck Society? It is helpful here to take a look at the structure of standard conventional ‘energy research’ and to compare it with the typical Max Planck structures. The energy sector is characterised by a strongly system-oriented approach. The development of individual components of a new energy system alone is not sufficient to bring about fundamental change to the overall system. This is illustrated by the following example: if hydrogen is to be used as a future fuel, storage materials for hydrogen, as are being developed at the Max Planck Institut für Kohlenforschung, are also urgently required.