IAt the institute of the quantum physicist Immanuel Bloch from the Max Planck Institute for Quantum Optics in Munich, the new figures for the expected changes in electricity prices have just come to the table. With an annual budget of around twenty million euros, the electricity costs alone will triple and amount to around three million euros in the future. “With the new increases in electricity costs and wages, we expect a cut in the available budget for 2023 of the order of almost 30 percent,” says Bloch. The institute will have to save “where possible”, but where exactly is not yet clear. This means that some projects will not be able to start, some may have to be delayed.
“I hope we don’t have to shut down the institute for a few months.” An “emergency meeting” has been scheduled for this week. Investments and expenditure on material resources will probably have to be scaled back considerably. Will ongoing experiments also be aborted under certain circumstances? This can happen if parts of the system or devices break down and then cannot be replaced.
In the entire Max Planck Society, which has been able to count five Nobel Prizes among its successes in the past three years, a few dice will be cast in the coming days and weeks on the near future of many of its 86 institutes and research facilities. “We already know that next year we will have at least a hundred million euros in additional costs for electricity alone,” says Martin Stratmann, President of the Max Planck Society.
According to the MPG scenarios, prices should relax again in 2024 and 2025, but remain high. Viewed over three years, the MPG headquarters in Munich calculates at least 400 million euros in additional electricity costs. “We don’t have such sums available at all,” says Stratmann, the “over-year funds” of 160 million euros – funds for construction measures that are actually planned but have not yet been paid – will essentially be used next year to cover electricity costs have to spend. You can’t simply cut back on staff, and doctoral students with three-year contracts can’t be fired at short notice either. “Therefore, next year we will stipulate that every institute must introduce massive energy-saving measures,” says Stratmann.
At the German Climate Computing Center in Hamburg, which recently received a new supercomputer costing 45 million euros, the funds for the high energy costs are currently not available to allow the climate research consortium to operate the computer as planned. “I’m really worried that the computer can only be used to a small extent,” says Stratmann. The shareholders are now sitting together and considering which cost increases are still to be borne. “Right now, the idea is to turn the device back by twenty percent.”
The offspring have to spoon up the bitter energy soup
Taken together, the austerity measures would mean that projects would also have to be shut down. According to this scenario, the “reserves” of the Max Planck Society will be used up by the end of the coming year. “In the year after next, we have to reckon with the fact that the Max Planck Society will have to shrink by ten to fifteen percent.” In other words: fewer institutes, fewer directors. Stratmann anticipates a funding gap of five to six percent over the next few years. The annual increase of three percent promised by the state is not enough to compensate for inflation, which is currently a good ten percent and, according to experts, will be over three percent “for a reasonable period of time”.