Digitalization: Megatrend for a Sustainable Energy System

Image source: Adobe Stock
Image source: Adobe Stock

Digitalization is an important trend in the energy system, which is currently being discussed as a necessary enabler of a transformation towards a decentralized and decarbonised energy system. The technical, economic and social opportunities offered by digitalization are currently at the forefront of the discourse. From a technical point of view, digital applications offer, for example, the possibility of implementing more complex models of local communities, e.g. in the form of digital energy communities or smart grids that not only operate renewable energy systems, but also intelligently couple them with storage systems or heat supply. In this way, these actors can not only generate added value locally, but also offer flexibility for the energy system. At the same time, questions also arise about rules and control sovereignties so that a self-organized local system is possible and at the same time the transformation of the overall system is strengthened.


In addition to a reduction in transaction costs, the economic opportunities of digitalization are seen in the expansion of existing markets or the creation of new ones, in which small decentralized players can also participate through digital implementation. These markets can be small digital communities that share their electricity with each other, but also more regional flexibility markets or simple participation in existing markets such as the power exchange or the balancing energy market. However, participating in these markets often requires a lot of real-time, high-resolution data to ensure predictability and forecasting.


These examples show that an important aspect and hope of using digital applications and tools is the participation of new actors. It is still unclear to what extent digitalization does lead to increased inclusion or creates new barriers. Digital tools can help to create understanding and transparency, for example through visualisation or participation. On the other hand, there is also the danger that processes will become less transparent if, for example, the flexible control of systems is not comprehensible and acceptance tends to fall as a result.


The junior research group therefore wants to address the overarching question of how digitalization is changing the governance of the energy transition and to what extent digital applications in the energy sector can act as enablers for polycentric approaches. Thereon, the research group will concentrate on the following three main topics:


  • Digitalization as an enabler of integration and self-organization of local actors and their flexibility in the energy system and its limits
  • Evaluation of the ecological impact of decentralized, digital energy communities, especially with regard to the energy system as a whole
  • Influence of digital tools on the quality of decision-making processes in the municipal energy transition