Center for Interdisciplinary Risk and Innovation Studies

Helmholtz-Allianz EnergyTrans

After the reactor catastrophe in Fukushima in 2011, the Helmholtz Alliance ENERGY-TRANS was founded to supplement technically oriented energy research with a socio-scientific interdisciplinary perspective. The design for researching the transformation of the energy system was aimed at examining the interplay between technical potential, innovation processes, user behaviour, political and economic framework conditions, conflicts and control processes. ZIRIUS participated in all five issues.

Project Funding

Half from the Helmholtz Association Initiative and Networking Fund and half from the project partners

Project Duration

2011 to 2016

Future infrastructures of energy supply – on the way to sustainability and responsibility

The transformation of the energy supply infrastructure in terms of sustainable development and accelerated phasing out of nuclear energy poses a significant challenge. In order to tackle these challenges in an interdisciplinary manner, ZIRIUS at the University of Stuttgart has joined forces with seven other partners in the new interdisciplinary Helmholtz Alliance Future Infrastructures of Energy Supply. The following research institutions are involved in the Alliance: the four Helmholtz centres Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT), Forschungszentrum Jülich, Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ) and German Aerospace Center (DLR), the Universities of Stuttgart, Magdeburg and FU Berlin and the Centre for European Economic Research in Mannheim. It is coordinated by KIT. The spokespersons are Professor Armin Grunwald, director of the Institute for Technology Assessment and System Analysis (ITAS) at KIT and Professor Ortwin Renn from the University of Stuttgart. Over the five-year term until 2016, the Helmholtz Alliance has a project volume of 16.5 million euros.

The key objective of the Alliance is to explore the multiple interfaces between technical and social factors that significantly influence the transformation process towards new energy infrastructures. On this basis, strategies will then be developed to make the transformation process efficient and socially compatible. In addition to scientific knowledge, therefore, “knowledge for action” is developed, which, according to the self-image of the Alliance, should be actively involved in social debates, stakeholder discussions and political consulting. The Alliance is committed to informing decision-makers from politics, business and society, actively involving them in research work and contributing to the general public's understanding of the complex relationships within the energy sector.

The targeted transformation of energy infrastructures requires an interplay of technological and social change across all areas of life. Here, technical systems for electricity, heat and fuel supply interact with consumer behaviour in households, the economy and transport, within the political framework and social developments such as demographic changes, lifestyle changes and changes in values. This complex interplay is the central focus of the Helmholtz Alliance. In order to understand it and to define and discuss ways of coordinated change for the entire complex, the Helmholtz Alliance is developing “Integrated Scenarios” of the transformation process. These scenarios are intended to describe alternative development paths and make their requirements recognisable. The “Integrated Scenarios” project is being carried out under the direction of the German Aerospace Center (DLR) with the participation of Forschungszentrum Jülich and ZIRIUS. The task of ZIRIUS in this project is to develop social scenarios that break down the uncertainties of the social framework for the transformation process and bundle them in alternative social images. These social scenarios will be developed by ZIRIUS using cross impact balance analysis (CIB) as the central scenario methodology and will serve to question the feasibility and stability of the various paths imaginable from a technological perspective in terms of the social framework conditions.

In addition to the scenario development, collaboration between eight research institutions in a total of 17 projects requires a harmonised approach in the field of foresight activities of the Helmholtz Alliance. Since all projects deal with different aspects of the future of the German energy infrastructures, many of them either use foresight methods themselves or use foresight products such as prognoses, forecasts or scenarios. To ensure that the foresight activities of the projects take place on a harmonised basis with regard to their methods and data and the opportunities for methodological further development of foresight techniques can be exploited within the framework of the Alliance, the Helmholtz Alliance has set up the “Horizontal Task Foresight Integration”.

Together with the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT), this cross-sectional activity led by ZIRIUS has the task of operating a communication platform for all partners in order to ensure the harmonisation of central framework assumptions concerning future development (such as population and economic development) and methodological further developments in the field of foresight methods, such as the combination of quantitative and qualitative analysis tools. Part of the tasks of the “Horizontal Task Foresight Integration” is also the creation of GIS-based risk maps, which shed light on the relationships between possible developments in the energy plants and infrastructures and the associated risks, vulnerabilities and conflict potentials.

  • Project duration:  2011 to  2016
  • Contact person:  Dr. Gerhard Fuchs
  • Staff:                   Dr. Gerhard Fuchs, Nele Hinderer, Gregor Kungl, Dr. Mario Neukirch

The energy system is a good example of a “large technical system” that is characterised by a considerable degree of institutional indolence and path-dependent development. In order to adapt the system to new requirements, such as those formulated by political institutions or the public, it needs to develop a significant amount of adaptability. The more solidified and complex the existing organisational and institutional structures are, the more difficult it is to achieve a fundamental transformation. This is especially true of fields characterised by tightly woven networks and capital-intensive, technical structures – like the energy system, for instance.

Transformation does not have to take place through a one-time, disruptive initiative. Transformation can also be achieved through many small steps of adjustment. Steps of adjustment take place in longer-lasting phases of discontinuity and uncertainty. During such phases, movement may take place towards a new, dominant field structure. The project “Adaptive Capacities, Path Creation and Sectoral Change” aims to analyse the driving forces, stakeholders and developments that are moving towards a transformation of the energy system or want to prevent this transformation.

In terms of methodology, the project primarily uses document and data analyses, as well as expert interviews.

The project is a sub-project of the Helmholtz Alliance ENERGY-TRANS, which is funded by the Helmholtz Association and the State of Baden-Württemberg (see the general project information on ENERGY-TRANS). The project runs from August 2011 to July 2016. The project is being carried out in close collaboration with other project partners within the Helmholtz Alliance, in particular with the Department of Systems Analysis and Technology Assessment of the German Aerospace Center (DLR).

The aim of the project is the analysis of the interplay of intermediaries, organisations and institutions in the course of the transformation of the energy system. On the one hand, it examines how different stakeholders organise or hinder the process of change. On the other hand, the project examines how stakeholders and networks of stakeholders are influenced by new regulatory mechanisms and institutions. 
The analysis is carried out for different sub-fields of the energy system. A particular focus is on emerging fields that are coming into being as part of the transformation, such as the direct marketing of electricity from renewables, flexibility options (storage technologies, demand side management or the establishment of capacity mechanisms) and energy saving services for private households. 
For two fields (direct marketing and flexibility mechanisms), the stakeholder analyses then form the basis for the (further) development of an agent-based model “AMIRIS” (for which the project partner DLR is responsible). The aim of AMIRIS is to analyse how different regulatory frameworks affect the behaviour of the stakeholders who organise the current challenges related to the energy transition, the market and system integration of electricity from renewable energies.

The stakeholder analyses are carried out with the help of document analyses, guideline-based qualitative expert interviews and workshops with the key stakeholder groups. The agent model is programmed in Java in the Repast Simphony simulation environment.

ZIRIUS coordinated the research field “User Behaviour and Demand Management” and implemented two projects:

  • “Efficient in Bahnstadt – Smart Meter Web Portal for Sustainable Electricity Use” (sub-project of “Effectiveness and Efficiency of Interventions”)
  • “Individual Rebound Behaviour in Car Mobility” (sub-project of “Determinants of Energy-Relevant Decisions and Behaviour in Households”)


The focus of both projects was on private households whose adaptation and participation in the transformation of energy infrastructures is of great importance. Households are no longer mere consumers of seemingly “unlimited” energy resources, but are required to deal with energy sustainably and efficiently.

A key research topic was smart metering. Smart meters serve as an interface between households and traditional and new network infrastructures (smart grids). Through the creation of complementary information tools, they open up new possibilities for motivating and supporting sustainable energy consumption behaviour.

In the field study “Efficient in Bahnstadt”, a smart meter web portal was developed with action-phase-oriented information architecture. It accompanies users from the development of a savings target to the implementation of new energy-saving behaviour. The impact of the web portal on user interaction and power consumption was evaluated. It was established that user interaction that encourages commitment to electricity-saving tips and the self-monitoring of implementation progress resulted in significant savings.

Rebound effects in individual energy consumption behaviour were another focus of the research. They threaten to destroy technical efficiency improvements. So far, however, the psychological processes underlying the rebound effect have received little attention.

In the study “Individual Rebound Behaviour in Car Mobility”, this was examined in the context of car-based mobility. First, a theoretical framework model was developed. It was based on economic and psychological and sociological explanations of the rebound effect, mobility-specific behavioural models and theories of environmentally relevant decisions. Subsequently, car buyers were asked about their motives when buying a car and changes in their user behaviour in a mixed-method design. The question was whether technical improvements in the car's efficiency lead to one of the three types of individual car rebound behaviour. These are the purchase of a larger model, covering longer distances or faster driving. It transpires that such rebound behaviour only comes to light in very specific constellations and motivations. Overall, the efficiency gains have a facilitating but no causal effect on rebound behaviour.

  • Project duration: 2011 to 2016
  • Contact person: Dr. Pia-Johanna Schweizer
  • Staff:                  Dr. Pia-Johanna Schweizer, Oliver Scheel, Regina Schröter

The development of sustainable and socially responsible energy infrastructures cannot be achieved without the involvement of stakeholders and the public. On the one hand, it is assumed that political decisions can be improved through appropriate communication and participation processes, as more expertise can thus be channelled. On the other hand, it is supposed that political decisions made with the participation of stakeholders and the public can be implemented more easily and better. Despite these advantages of participation procedures, there is still a need for research regarding the involvement of the public and stakeholders in energy supply planning processes. ZIRIUS therefore deals with the potential of discursive participatory processes in Research Area E of the Helmholtz Alliance. In a first step, the potential of participation processes in the planning of energy supply will be discussed. In a second step, deliberative, group-based participation procedures are specifically implemented.

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