Over 200 researchers from 76 institutions attended the kick-off meeting for the Kopernikus project “Energy Transition Navigation System” in Berlin on 19–21 December 2016. The research consortium comprises 64 scientific research institutes, flanked by a number of partners from the private sector and civil society. The IASS is to coordinate the consortium’s research activities.
The Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) has earmarked up to €400 million in funding for the research initiative Kopernikus Projects for the Energy Transition over the course of its ten-year lifespan. The initiative’s four research consortia will investigate different aspects of the energy transition and develop specific proposals for its advancement. These findings will feed in to the Kopernikus project “Energy Transition Navigation System”, coordinated by the IASS, which will generate solutions to support the progress of the energy transition and provide policy advice to decision-makers.
Karl Eugen Huthmacher, who heads the Department for Provision for the Future – Basic and Sustainability Research at the BMBF, noted in his welcoming address: “We have to understand the energy transition as a continuous learning process, the progress of which is nonetheless marked by uncertainty. There can be no ‘master plan’ – and nor will there be one in future. Again and again we will face the challenge of having to respond to both short- and long-term developments. We must have the capacity to assess our efforts and to make adjustments where necessary. Research will be vital to achieving this goal and that is where this project will make a difference.”
Germany’s largest social research project
“There has never been a research programme like this,” said the consortium’s spokesperson, IASS Director Ortwin Renn: “This will be the largest joint social research project ever conducted in Germany.” Unlike the three other Kopernikus projects, which focus on technical aspects such as transmission grid development, the modernisation of industrial processes or options for energy storage, the navigation system project draws on a broad spectrum of expertise across the social sciences and creates a point of engagement with actors from the fields of policymaking, civil society, and the private sector.
At the project’s presentation in Jülich on 13 October 2016, the Federal Minister of Education and Research, Johanna Wanka also stressed the importance of engaging with the public through research as a means to better understanding the barriers to acceptance.
The project’s global goal is the development of a feasible, flexible, and recognised system to facilitate the assessment of technological developments or changing political and economic circumstances.
Ortwin Renn refers to this key task of the future navigation instrument as ‘intervention risk assessment’ and explains: “Our goal is to develop the capacity to better estimate the effects of decisions. In order to achieve this, we need to bring together insights from different disciplines and models, identify connections and relationships within the highly complex field of energy systems, fill knowledge gaps, and develop a map of the system. These are the tasks that we have set ourselves for the initial phase of the project.”
“Living labs” from Bollewick to Rosenheim
The Kopernikus research consortium will tread new ground in the project’s second phase with its use of regional living labs to trial recommendations developed by the navigation system from 2019 onward. The consortium’s research activities are expected to span as many as fifty regional living labs across Germany, from the small town of Bollewick in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern to energy companies and municipal utilities in Heidelberg and Rosenheim.
The kick-off meeting in Berlin brought together representatives from the various partner institutes that make up the “Energy Transition Navigation System” research consortium to discuss their first steps towards achieving the project’s goals and to coordinate their activities across the project’s fourteen work packages.