Calculating for energy reform

FAU mathematicians make gas networks fit for the future

The last nuclear power plants in Germany will be decommissioned in 2022. However, by then, it will not be possible to meet all of the country’s electricity requirements using wind and solar energy. This means that gas will play a crucial role as an energy source over the coming decades. But how can the German gas network be prepared for the growing demand? Mathematicians at FAU and several partner institutions from across Germany are currently investigating this in a large-scale research project. The German Research Foundation will fund the Transregio 154 ‘Mathematical modelling, simulation and optimisation using the example of gas networks’ with around seven million euros over the next four years.

Like many other industrialised nations, Germany is heavily dependent on a reliable, efficient and affordable energy supply. At the same time, people want environmentally-friendly forms of energy. Gas is considered a good transitional solution as part of the process of energy reform. There are sufficient amounts of this energy source available, it can be supplied quickly and there are a wide range of storage possibilities. ‘A significant portion of the total electricity required in Germany could be covered by gas,’ says Prof. Dr. Alexander Martin from the Chair of Economics, Discrete Optimization and Mathematics at FAU who is leading the major research project.

Several questions still need to be answered in order to provide the country with gas efficiently, such as how the pipelines in such a network must be controlled so that large amounts can be transported to their destinations quickly and accurately – and in a way which is as energy- and cost-efficient as possible. The experts at the Transregio want to find solutions for these kinds of problems. The laws of nature also present a significant challenge for the researchers. For example, gas providers must prove that, within given technical capacities, it is technically possible to fulfil all contracts. They therefore have to ensure that the gas flows according to how the traders in the market have sold or bought it. ‘But gas always flows from high pressure to low pressure – and not to the higher price,’ says Professor Martin, ‘Trade often goes against nature in this respect.’ He adds, ‘We have to consider how we can unite these two worlds.’

‘The way that the German gas networks currently work is reasonably satisfactory,’ explains Professor Martin. ‘However, we have no guarantees that all of the processes will still run smoothly once they are subjected to higher loads.’ This is where the researchers come in. They aim to use mathematical solutions to provide a new quality standard. Experts from a wide range of areas in applied mathematics, such as mathematical modelling, numerical analysis and simulation, and stochastic optimisation, will work together on this project.

Professor Martin is convinced that FAU is the ideal location to lead a project in this area of research – and not just because Germany’s largest gas pipe with the highest flow rate runs between Erlangen and Nuremberg. ‘With its strengths in applied mathematics, FAU offers the best conditions as the co-ordinating university for this project,’ says Professor Martin. ‘The focus on optimisation is almost unique in Germany. In addition, the project is associated with Energiecampus Nürnberg ,where mathematicians and energy experts work together intensively. HU Berlin, TU Berlin, TU Darmstadt and the University of Duisburg-Essen, as well as the Zuse Institute Berlin (ZIB) and the Weierstrass Institute for Applied Analysis and Stochastics (WIAS) – Leibniz Institute in Forschungsverbund Berlin – are also part of the Transregio.

Further information:

Prof. Dr. Alexander Martin
Phone: +49 9131 8567163