Sustainable Software Engineering

We shape the future and promote digitalization with sustainable software.

What is sustainability?

© Fraunhofer IESE

Sustainability or sustainable development means satisfying the needs of the present in such a way as not to restrict the opportunities of future generations. In this regard, it is important to consider the three dimensions of sustainability – economically efficient, socially just, ecologically viable – on equal terms.

We attach great importance to taking these three dimensions of sustainability into account in our research and in our applications.

For us, sustainable development means considering environmental aspects on the same level as social and economic aspects, because it should be the goal of society as a whole to deal with global resources in an environmentally friendly and responsible manner.

Green IT: Making software engineering sustainable

Conserving resources with sustainable software and systems engineering

Sustainable Software Design: Background and Best Practices, Fraunhofer IESE
© | Blue Planet Studio

Green Computing is a collective term for all efforts to use information and communication technology (ICT) for the purpose of conserving resources in society or in the economy (Green by IT) or to operate ICT itself in a sustainable and resource-conserving manner (Green IT).

At its core, it is always about resource conservation, but it is clear to everyone that resource conservation can be achieved in different ways: for example, by constructing systems in such a way that they consume fewer resources, or by using them for a particularly long time so that resources do not have to be used again to manufacture them. Or by keeping resources in a cycle – i.e., reusing things.

There are certain design goals when building systems and therefore naturally also when developing software. Currently, sustainability is an important topic that ultimately affects many things in software engineering, also at Fraunhofer IESE: for example, the architectures, i.e., the way in which software is structured. However, it is also reflected in the system software, i.e., in the operating systems, which must have certain capabilities on which to build. And the focus on sustainability does, of course, also have an influence on the development methodology itself – that is, on processes that allow the right decisions to be made early on and to ensure that these decisions have the effect desired by the engineer.

Digitalization and sustainability – better together!

Fraunhofer IESE uses digital solutions to make sustainable manufacturing “easy”

In sustainable production, the use of resources is very important, of course. This means that you want to use as few resources as possible for each product. Ideally, production should take place in a circular economy. That is, using resources that were previously recycled – at least to a large extent. But it is also about the amount of energy used in production. This means that there are sometimes energy-intensive production steps. These are often necessary, but sometimes simple measures can be taken to reduce the amount of energy required. 

In the first sub-step, for example, the digital product pass can be used to describe not only the product itself, but also the resources used and, if necessary, also recipes to recycle them as well as possible. As for the second aspect, energy consumption – this is something we are working on ourselves. Our aim is to use state-of-the-art scheduling to link production planning with a forecast of the availability of renewable energy in order to make it possible to carry out energy-intensive production steps at a time when renewable energy is available. And here you have a double advantage because this does, of course, help the environment, but also benefits your budget because production becomes cheaper. Regarding the third case, we are working on efficient processes for the production of small lot sizes. It is not only important to be able to produce small lot sizes efficiently, but also to produce these small lot sizes at the time they are needed. This means adjusting set-up times and automating contract negotiations. This requires an integrated operating system for production, which is something we are working on in the project BaSys4Transfer, for example.

The potential of Digital Twins for sustainable Smart Cities

Sustainable urban development and digital monitoring through simulation models

Referenzprojekt: EcoMobility, Fraunhofer IESE
© Shtantsov

Smart Cities and sustainability are inextricably linked. Smart technologies in cities can make a crucial contribution to conserving valuable resources and thus overcoming the energy crisis. The Digital Twin, in particular, is seen as having great potential in this context. In industry, the added value of Digital Twins has already been recognized; now cities are also developing digital images of the diverse processes in buildings, streets, waterways, and power grids.
The IESE experts are convinced that the development of Digital Twins for Smart Cities and Smart Regions is only just beginning. 

However, the Digital Twin not only offers great potential for cities, but also for rural areas. For example, mapping decentralized energy generation could be relevant for a rural area, as significantly more photovoltaic systems in private households generate energy here compared to large cities. In a city, on the other hand, an integrated energy concept in which e-mobility plays a key role could be mapped. This means that although the use cases are similar, they may differ in their characteristics and implementation between urban and rural areas.

Digital Twins in power supply

Fraunhofer IESE is researching the effects of increasing electromobility

To achieve the climate protection goals, the energy requirements for private and public mobility must increasingly be covered by renewable energy sources. It is therefore to be expected that the power distribution grids will experience considerable strain not only because of decentralized generation plants, but also because of the charging behavior of electric vehicles. Research into the effects of increasing electromobility on the distribution grids and how to counteract them with the help of Digital Twins is the focus of the research project “MobiGrid”.

Electric vehicles and the increasing feed-in of electrical energy from decentralized generation plants pose new challenges for distribution grid operators. Increasing battery capacities of electric vehicles, paired with the desire for short charging times, will continue to drive up the demand load in the distribution grids even more in the future. These challenges must increasingly be met by Smart Grids, in which flexibility is one building block for ensuring system and supply security.

The open-source middleware Eclipse BaSyx is being transferred to the energy industry. Digital Twins not only represent physical objects such as mechanical components, but also non-physical objects such as processes and services. In the field of power grids, these are often simulation models that suitably replicate the real world in the present and in the future in the Digital Twin.

Industry 4.0: important building block in the fight against greenwashing

Using the Asset Administration Shell to strip products of their alleged green credentials

Industrie 4.0: wichtiger Baustein im Kampf gegen Greenwashing, Fraunhofer IESE

The Industry 4.0 middleware BaSyx has been developed over the past few years by Fraunhofer IESE together with many other partners. It is available to interested parties as open source and is designed as a kind of toolkit from which companies can obtain precisely those components for specific use cases that they need at the time. This also includes the principle of Asset Administration Shells, for example.

These are standardized Digital Twins with a uniform structure. Each Asset Administration Shell contains submodels that map the status of the real asset and also provide live data as required. In short, the Asset Administration Shell contains all the data about the properties of a product and its manufacturing history and can process this data using algorithms.

And now back to the issue of greenwashing: The principle of Asset Administration Shells also provides for the so-called CO2 submodel. This documents the carbon footprint of a manufacturer’s own production steps across manufacturers, as well as that of the production steps of all suppliers, and thus enables documentation along the entire supply chain of a product. This makes it possible to clearly trace how much CO2 was generated during the manufacture of a product. Rough estimation errors, which are currently still very common in many ESG reports, can thus be eliminated.

Sustainability through cognitive systems and autonomous machines

Working for sustainable developments and safe autonomous systems

Sustainable agriculture, the circular economy, the energy transition, and other actions within planetary boundaries are associated with tasks that exceed human capabilities. This is where cognitive systems are used to provide support.

For example, the complex processing of a great deal of information can take place within a very short time. Only to a limited extent do humans serve as a safe fallback level in order to achieve dependability. It is therefore necessary to be able to depend on the autonomous behavior of the systems.

In addition to cognitive skills, motor skills are also very important for sustainable development. Weeding, for example, can minimize the necessary use of pesticides, but requires a certain amount of motor skill. Such difficult motor tasks can increasingly be performed by robots, machines, and drones. There are also economic reasons why processes in digital farming typically have to run autonomously. One challenging basic prerequisite is that safety must be guaranteed.

Dependability and safety are among the main obstacles to the use of cognitive systems and autonomous machines for sustainable developments. We help you to overcome these challenges and set new standards.