Hans-Jürgen Schmitz, Martin Wolczyk / Adobe Firefly (Composing)
2024-01-01 VDE dialog

Top1: Energy transition

The VDE ETG was founded 50 years ago in response to the 1973 oil crisis. Whether it’s global warming or the war in Ukraine, the issues we face in the energy sector have grown no less challenging since then, explains chairperson Dr. Britta Buchholz.

What is the ETG?

The ETG is Society for Energy Technology in VDE. As a scientific organization, we’re constantly working toward a sustainable, climate-neutral, efficient, cost-effective and secure energy system. We cover related subjects from every angle, be it production, storage, consumption or the grid operator perspective. We also look at applications in areas such as machinery and mobility. Interdisciplinary topics like power electronics, materials and switching behavior in the energy system are also part of our work. Meanwhile, we’re also exploring more and more issues that go beyond our specialization in electrical energy systems. These include hydrogen, multi-energy systems and the like.

When was the society founded, and why?

The ETG was established 50 years ago, primarily as a means of sharing knowledge among experts in energy technology. In 1973, we experienced an energy crisis related to a sharp rise in the price of oil. This clearly revealed the dependence of industrialized countries on fossil fuels, and thus on certain countries. Today, we’re still dealing with the question of how to guarantee a secure and resilient energy supply in the face of threats like war and global warming.

So the energy transition is your main concern?

Helping the energy transition succeed is right at the top of our agenda, of course. Our work is not so much about developing or implementing standards and norms, however. That’s covered by other parts of VDE, such as DKE, FNN or VDE Renewables. Instead, our society is about supporting this transformation – which we all want to see – in a positive, but also critical way. We try to identify upcoming challenges and opportunities early on so that we can recommend corresponding actions. We see topics related to multi-energy systems as an important challenge for the years ahead. The same goes for digitalization, and particularly for the role of artificial intelligence in the energy system. Sustainability will also play an ever more important part in this system as a whole. Of course, this topic involves a certain degree of complexity. That’s why our current studies are meant for experts. That said, the current board aims to build on the strong basis these studies provide and formulate our messages so that policymakers and the public can understand them, too.

Video interview with Dr. Britta Buchholz

2023-12-18 Video

“At ETG, top experts work together with young people who are at university or have just completed their degrees.”

Watch video

Do you think you’re getting your messages across in that regard?

Yes, we’re helping to raise awareness of certain issues, like the need to expand energy grids and storage capacity if we want to increase the use of renewable energy. Unfortunately, it’s taking far too long to establish this infrastructure in Germany. A lot of patience is needed in our line of work! It’s sometimes very annoying when laws are passed that simply can’t be implemented in practice for technical reasons. Or when technical expertise is ignored and existing technical solutions are simply neglected for years. The digitalization of our energy infrastructure and approval processes comes to mind straight away. We’re a long way behind here, and we need to get a move on!

To what extent is the shortage of skilled labor a limiting factor?

It truly is a big challenge. We need the energy transition and want it to happen. However, it won’t succeed unless we have enough engineers and technicians to join us in getting behind this massive transformation. That’s why we urgently need to do something about the continued decline in student numbers in engineering subjects. The ETG board wants to focus on educating and training young people in ways that get them excited about energy technology.

Give us a picture of what it’s like working in the ETG.

The ETG is divided into eight departments that cover every aspect of electrical energy technology, including the supply of energy, the use of electricity and interdisciplinary technologies. At the start of our current term, we board members and the department heads developed a strategy with five focus areas for the next three years.

  1. Working on training the next generation for the energy transition
  2. Exploring the development of a multi-energy system
  3. Focusing on sustainability in the energy system
  4. Looking at the important role of digitalization (and artificial intelligence in particular) in the energy system
  5. Making a greater impact on policy and society

These and other topics will be discussed at departmental events and at the ETG Congress in 2025. We also plan to create more task forces and working groups. All VDE ETG members have the opportunity to get actively involved in our departments and task forces; around 300 experts currently volunteer their time. Here, we’re not only connecting the realms of energy, industry and academia, but also bringing different generations together. Through our society, experienced top experts work with young people who are still at university or have recently graduated. For the next generation, working in a specialist society can be a career springboard. Getting involved in our joint activities often leads to long-lasting friendships.

What does being part of VDE mean for the ETG?

Scientific societies like the ETG benefit enormously from VDE, and vice versa. It’s a win-win situation. VDE is an umbrella association with a strong brand and a great reputation – not just here in Germany, but abroad, as well. It also offers us a professional structure for establishing political contacts or organizing events, for example, and it’s well represented through regional associations. That’s invaluable to us as a society run entirely by volunteers. The chance to share ideas with other parts of VDE is also very important to us. With us and its other specialist societies, VDE has brought together so much knowledge under one roof. When you look around the world, it really does stand out.

VDE talks about an “e-dialistic future.” How is the ETG contributing to this?

We’re the “e” in the e-dialistic future. Electricity will be the mainstay of the energy supply in the future. It will be used wherever possible, whether in homes or industry or for communication, transport or heating. Worldwide, electricity generation and grids will therefore need to expand by a factor of three or four by the year 2050. That means the Society for Energy Technology in VDE will take on even more importance going forward. Exciting times!

Interview by Martin Schmitz-Kuhl

Dr. Britta Buchholz is the vice president of active distribution grids at Hitachi Energy and has chaired the VDE ETG since 2023.

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