11/10/2023 | News release | Distributed by Public on 11/10/2023 02:53
Prof. Johannes Reichl is currently involved in growing the LIT Future Energy Lab. We spoke with him about his main areas of focus.
What exactly is the field of energy management about?'
Prof. Johannes Reichl: A well-functioning energy system should meet three basic criteria. The first is ensuring that energy is reliably available in sufficient quantity and quality to anyone who needs it. The second is ensuring that the price of energy is affordable and does not negatively impact an individual's economic growth, or that of society as a whole, and the last is to ensure that producing and distributing energy does not affect people and the environment in an adverse, negative way. It is a balancing act and we refer to this area of contention as the energy industry triangle. Research in energy economics focuses on how an energy system can be organized to best take all three factors into account.
What exactly is your research about?
Prof. Johannes Reichl: My research focuses on how we can structure incentive-related strategies for those involved, such as households and companies for example, to ensure that individual energy-related decisions support social progress as a whole rather than counteract it. For example, this kind of decision may involve a question as to whether or not a company should invest in renewable energy or fossil fuels, and whether or not a household should charge an electric car when there is a particularly large amount of renewable electricity available in the grid. Both business and household decisions depend on incentives, such as the legal parameters, technical feasibility, and any economic advantages and disadvantages pertaining to corresponding alternatives. My team and I are exploring the research and development behind various incentives to promote making socially advantageous decisions.
Why did you choose to become a professor at the JKU?
Prof. Johannes Reichl: My research can effectively contribute to positive changes in the energy system, providing we can directly involve key stakeholders in the research. Linz is home to several high-energy industries that are directly involved in the 'energy triangle'. Upper Austria also began adapting its energy infrastructure at an early stage to meet energy transition challenges. This includes, for example, rolling out the so-called "smart meter", a digital reading device to automatically record electricity consumption. The resulting readings and their timely availability to consumers support, among other things, an opportunity to conduct experimental research focusing on the incentive effects of electricity tariffs designed to encourage consumers to consume electricity coming primarily from renewable sources. The JKU's proximity to the energy industry research sector and the available on-site infrastructure is ideal to conduct research that may answer very specific questions regarding advancements in our energy system.
What do you find particularly fascinating about your area of research?
Prof. Johannes Reichl: There is hardly any other research field driven by an immediate need to find solutions more than research in the energy industry. Every so often, local, national and European politicians set new targets in regard to advancements in energy. The public's expectations in energy industry research are also continually growing on account of an urgency to reduce fossil fuels. These prerequisites are a powerful incentive for day-to-day activities. The high demand to come up with alternative solutions also means that we can often implement energy sector research findings more quickly than in other areas that the public is not as familiar with, but areas that are no less important. Simply put, current dynamics and countless opportunities to generate ideas and conduct research in this field make the energy sector an incredibly fascinating area of research.
Why is this research even necessary, meaning how will it improve our lives?
Prof. Johannes Reichl: The past year, and indeed the past few months, have dramatically revealed what can happen when the energy policy triangle is off kilter. The current pricing situation has been more than just challenging to the economy and society. In addition, there are growing concerns that in the event of geopolitical conflicts, our energy supply, once considered absolutely secure, could unexpectedly become our Achilles' heel. Simultaneously, our pursuit to create a more sustainable energy system coupled with the constant pressure to phase out fossil fuels as quickly as possible is potentially resulting in a lack of attention to risky individual policies. This is why research findings in our field are crucial, particularly when it comes to attaining the required climate targets in a way so that the measures do not hinder, but rather support, long-term social progress. Research in energy economics will improve our lives by ensuring and enabling environmentally and climate-friendly energy at competitive prices; we want to rely on long-term availability without having to worry about it.
Why should students take your classes?
Prof. Johannes Reichl: Based on my experience, young people are extremely interested in sustainability, climate protection, and the corresponding social challenges. The best way for everyone to play their part in addressing these challenges is to understand the underlying systems and their connections, thereby creating sustainable solutions that transcend the often short-sighted public debate. I believe that many students are open to taking a serious look at the topics related to energy transition and climate protection and I look forward to discussing the issues during my courses in an open, informal way.
What are you currently working on?
Prof. Johannes Reichl: In a few years' time, we will generate enough electricity from renewable sources to cover Austria's entire annual electricity demand. However, the wind and the sun do not provide us electricity at the exact times we want it. This means, for example, that on sunny, summer days we will produce more electricity than we need during the same period, while during the winter hours, we will produce too little. We will need to address this renewable electricity production structure in multiple ways. In addition to expanding and scaling up storage capacities, flexibility will be a key element when it comes to our consumption level. At the household level, this means using electricity from renewable sources, whenever possible, for example, doing the laundry during the day when the sun is out and not when there is less wind during evening hours. We are currently involved in several projects to investigate which information-based, technical and economic incentives can prompt households to change their lifestyle in this way. We are also working on several projects to learn more about how we can encourage the public to change their lifestyles to be more in line with the new demands of climate change. I would like to invite everyone to download our Climate Campaigners app designed to encourage users to take on challenges where they can engage in climate-friendly behavior first-hand. User feedback gives us input for local politicians as to what kinds of measures they can take to help members of the public to lead a more sustainable lifestyle. There are currently 16 cities around the world using the app to create new policies. In addition to Cape Town in South Africa and Dublin in Ireland, Linz and Freistadt are also taking part. I would be thrilled if as many people as possible could use the app: https://www.climate-campaigners.com/, opens an external URL in a new window
What are your hobbies?
Prof. Johannes Reichl: My wife and I enjoy mountain biking, cooking unusual recipes shared across social media, and traveling to other countries.
What else do you want to do or achieve in your life?
Prof. Johannes Reichl: If, when I retire, I could give guided tours of former fossil fuel power plants and tell young visitors stories that sound like a distant, barely imaginable past - as if they were visiting the Colosseum in Rome - then we will have done all of the right things in the field of energy research.