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Research institute provides steady path to success

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Lena in Gran Canaria

In the latest of our team profiles, we speak to Lena Kappler, one of the administrators who keeps PilotSTRATEGY on track

Lena Kappler has travelled far and wide in Asia and South America but in terms of work she has remained close to home, spending her career to date at the Fraunhofer Institute for Systems and Innovation Research ISI in Karlsruhe in south-west Germany.

Fraunhofer ISI - which leads PilotSTRATEGY’s Work Package 6 on Social Acceptance and Community Engagement - is part of Germany’s Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft. A leading global applied research organisation founded in 1949, Fraunhofer operates almost 80 institutes and research units throughout Germany; has more than 30,000 employees, predominantly scientists and engineers; and an annual research budget of nearly €3bn.

A graduate in business administration from Pforzheim University (midway between Karlsruhe and Stuttgart), Lena joined Fraunhofer ISI in 2010 as a project controller for two of its competence centres - Energy Technology and Energy Systems, and Energy Policy and Energy Markets.

She had not planned to work in research: it was her parents who saw the job advert and encouraged her to apply.

“I had a good feeling in the job interview,” she recalls. “I do like the work environment here. It’s very flexible. The people are very nice and the work is interesting.”

Master’s degree

Since joining she has continued to study, completing a Master’s degree in energy and operational management at Bingen Technical University of Applied Science, in 2021. The same year, she was promoted to project coordinator, a new role at Fraunhofer ISI which combines administration with research functions.

“I am working between the scientists and the administration. I am working on projects on one hand from an administration point of view but I’m also working content wise,” she says. “It is very interesting - I am happy I don’t only see the numbers of the project but can also work content wise.”

As well as PilotSTRATEGY, Lena works on three other projects: one on high performance charging for electric trucks in Germany; another is a European project evaluating energy efficiency policy measures and monitoring energy consumption and efficiency trends; and the third which is modelling how Germany can become greenhouse gas neutral by 2045. Together with a colleague, she is also an internal sustainability officer, looking, for example, at how to reduce the energy use of the institute.

PilotSTRATEGY takes up about one day a week of her time at the moment. The work package she is working on seeks to understand public attitudes, concerns and needs regarding geological storage of CO2 in the five regions we are working in. It is also establishing and enhancing the participation of the local communities and stakeholders in the regions, for example, through regional stakeholder committees.

Last year, she helped commission and then oversee research surveys with up to 500 respondents in each region gauging their acceptance of carbon capture and storage (CCS).

“After choosing the [market research] companies, I also helped look at the quotas – we needed to make sure there was a gender balance, that the [respondents] were evenly spread within the region, that there was balance in the level of education of the persons, and so on.”

Keen volleyball player

Outside of work, sport and travelling keep Lena busy. She lives in a village outside Karlsruhe near the River Rhein, enjoying swimming in local lakes in the summer and rollerblading. Her main sport, however, is volleyball – she plays in a league in south-west Germany that runs over the winter – and in the summer she plays beach volleyball.

Travel-wise Asia is a favourite, building on a semester spent at the University of Hong Kong in 2008 as part of her undergraduate degree - an “amazing experience”, she says. Living in student halls, she was impressed with the communal spirit and warm welcome, meeting both local and international students.

As for her career, Lena is not sure of the next steps: she is still relatively new to the project coordinator role.

“In my current job, there is a lot to learn still,” she says. “I want to understand this job fully first and it’s also interesting to find out more about the topics we are researching.”

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