Wladimir Köppen Award
The Wladimir Köppen Award includes a cash component of 5,000 euros and is awarded by Universität Hamburg’s Cluster of Excellence “Climate, Climatic Change, and Society” (CLICCS). Awarded for the tenth time in 2019, its purpose is to recognize outstanding dissertations written by young researchers.
Award winners 2019 - Johanna Matzat and Jan Wohland
Not one, but two outstanding dissertations were honored with the 2019 Wladimir Köppen Award by the Cluster of Excellence CLICCS. Dr. Johanna Matzat was selected for her sociological analysis of heating in passive homes and smart homes, while Dr. Jan Wohland impressed the jury with his work on the effects of climate change and wind-based fluctuations on renewable energies. Both dissertations provide analyses and approaches to developing and promoting low-emissions energy use.
Picture: private (left), ETH Zürich (right)
Johanna Matzat completed her doctoral studies at Universität Hamburg, and in the context of her dissertation, investigated how everyday routines in private households can be made more energy-efficient. In the course of the Energy Transition, Germany’s goal is to become one of the most energy-efficient countries on the planet by 2050. How can we achieve this? To do so, not only does our energy supply have to be adapted; our everyday lives will need to change, too – because private households account for roughly a quarter of Germany’s total energy consumption.
In her dissertation, the sociologist took a closer look at a specific area of everyday life: heating in private households – because heating is responsible for roughly one third of the energy used in homes, and therefore considerable quantities of CO2. But that’s not the case in smart homes or passive homes, which use computer-controlled technologies or efficient designs to substantially reduce energy consumption. For her study, Matzat interviewed citizens of Hamburg who live in passive or smart homes. She also consulted experts from the construction and energy sectors, and gathered observations at energy providers and informational events. Her most important findings: many people are reluctant to try these new options because it would mean giving up the heating and airing out routines that they’ve been using for years. As a result, they’re worried about giving up control, or having to depend on new technologies.
Through her interviews, Matzat found that this usually changes as soon as these people actually start living in passive or smart homes, and get used to the new forms of heating. In most cases, those who were initially skeptical are quickly won over by the design or newly installed smart systems. Another advantage of passive homes: they are often built by cooperatives and include areas for community use. As a result, people with lower incomes can profit from affordable rents and low energy costs. By promoting passive homes, the government could potentially achieve two important goals in one stroke: lower emissions and more affordable housing.
Efficiently using wind power
Jan Wohland explored several questions on renewable energies in his dissertation. The climate physicist, who completed his doctoral studies at the University of Cologne, began by looking into the connections between the available wind on the one hand, and fluctuating costs for operating Germany’s power grid on the other. When a harsh wind blows in northern Germany, the grid starts to hit its peak capacity, which prevents it from distributing electricity nationwide. To stabilize the grid, the wind power is temporarily disconnected, and power plants in southern Germany have to take up the slack, which produces additional costs. Between 2014 and 2015, total costs rose by several hundred million euros, which Jan Wohland attributes to substantial differences in the wind. Can these costs be avoided? Not right away, Wohland claims, based on the wind data. His analysis shows: the wind varies considerably from year to year. Accordingly, the resulting costs should be factored into the planning from the outset.
In addition, when a new wind park is being planned, the wind over the course of several decades should be taken into consideration. Wind speeds vary not just from year to year, but also from decade to decade. Accordingly, reliable data from at least the last 50 years should be analyzed and used to prepare comprehensive statistics. But exactly this aspect can be a source of error, since reliable data is only available for the last 40 years; due to the imprecise measuring methods used, the data and statistics from before 1980 are only partly suitable. Therefore, experts should critically assess long-term analyses before using them to plan wind parks.
At the same time, climate models indicate that the wind over Europe will most likely blow more consistently at the end of the 21st century than it does today. Wohland has calculated that, if this comes to pass, it will be bad news for Europe’s power system, since many countries will simultaneously produce too little or too much wind energy. To compensate for times with insufficient wind, up to seven percent more energy would have to be produced, e.g. by gas power plants. In contrast, when there’s too much wind, the surplus energy could be used to power Direct Air Capture (DAC) plants, which remove CO2 from the atmosphere, producing “negative” emissions. Once the wind dies down, they automatically shut back down. Using strategically placed DAC plants, it could be possible to prevent power grids from overloading during particularly windy periods. But so far there are only a few prototypes in operation – since questions concerning the safe storage of CO2 and public acceptance remain open. Nevertheless, the two-degree goal defined in the Paris Agreement can only realistically be reached by producing “negative” emissions.
The two award winners for 2019
Johanna Matzat’s and Jan Wohland’s dissertations are equally extraordinary. Both are characterized by a high degree of precision, carefully selected methods and excellently presented analyses. The overarching topic of both works is the Energy Transition, though Matzat approaches it from a social sciences perspective, while Wohland adopts a natural sciences standpoint. Given these similarities and differences, the jury saw an outstanding opportunity to honor the interdisciplinary approach to a highly topical issue that is also central to the efforts of CLICCS – and perfectly in keeping with the spirit of awarding the Wladimir Köppen Award on the part of the Cluster of Excellence.
Traditionally, the prize is awarded to recipients as part of a festive ceremony. In light of the corona pandemic, however, Johanna Matzat and Jan Wohland will receive their prizes by mail. Both are invited to Hamburg for the award ceremony in 2021.