Headline: Energy Systems and Societal Change

The decarbonisation of the energy system is among the greatest and most important challenges of the twenty-first century. With the energy sector accounting for roughly two thirds of global CO2 emissions, the development of a climate-friendly energy system based on renewables is vital to tackling climate change. This transformation has far-reaching economic and societal consequences, making it an important field of study for transformative research at the IASS. There is far more to the energy system than simply technical infrastructure: The energy transition fosters the emergence of innovative business models and forms of organisation, drives the development of new practices and ways of life, reassigns responsibilities, reshapes governance, and redistributes power. Six research groups at the IASS study change processes within the context of the energy transition and develop solutions to safeguard their sustainability in cooperation with societal stakeholders. The social, political and institutional dimensions of the energy transition and the multi-dimensional evaluation of socio-technical options for the development of a low-carbon economy form a particular focus of this research. In the Kopernikus Project "Energy Transition Navigation System (Enavi)", 80 partners from research and practice work together to analyse and evaluate transformation pathways for the energy system, with a particular focus on Germany. The research group "Energy Transition Dynamics" investigates policy instruments and institutional regimes for the complete decarbonisation of energy systems in Europe especially. The research group "Pathways to Sustainable Energy" studies the social sustainability of the energy transition as well as the transformation and potential of international governance and cooperation within the context of a global energy transition. This work is linked closely to the activities of the research groups "Social and Economic Co-Benefits of Renewable Energy & Climate Action (COBENEFITS)" and "Systemic Implications of the Global Energy Transition". The former studies the complementary benefits of renewable generation in India, South Africa, Turkey and Vietnam, while the latter explores the potential risks to the countries of the Global South posed by a global energy transition. In the group "CO2 Utilisation Strategies and Society", researchers cooperate with European and international partners to study the potential benefits and risks associated with technologies for carbon capture and utilisation (CCU) and their societal implications.

Dossiers

IASS scientists explore the future of energy transport

Superconductivity Dossier

In the coming decades, the development of renewable energy sources (RES) such as wind and solar will play a major role in reducing our reliance on fossil fuels and making our energy system more sustainable. But the places where RES are available or would be most efficient are often located far away from the densely populated and industrial areas where the energy is needed: on the open sea in the case of offshore wind and in sunnier climes in the case of solar. This means that the construction of new power lines needs to go hand in hand with RES development. In Germany for instance, expanding the electrical grid has become a crucial precondition for the success of the Energiewende.

New technologies use carbon dioxide emissions

CO₂: From Waste to Feedstock Dossier

Economic activities and consumer behaviour in developed countries are currently based mainly on the use of fossil-based raw materials, whose emissions are largely responsible for anthropogenic climate change. In efforts to reduce human effects on the climate, the avoidance of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions is and remains the most important measure. But viewing the greenhouse gas CO2 as a source of carbon can also make sense. In recent years scientists have been investigating so-called Carbon Capture and Utilisation (CCU) technologies. The aim of these technologies is to re-cycle the CO2 contained in emissions as a feedstock for industrial processes.

Energy Transition

Creating the Conditions for a Globally Just Energy Transition

How can the energy transition be organized in a globally just way? Will developing countries struggle to transition to clean energy because they lack the financial and technical means? A new Policy Brief by the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies (IASS) focuses on the risks of an uneven transition and makes concrete proposals to prevent such risks.

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ENavi at UNECE

Navigation Tools to Strengthen Dialogue at United Nations Regional Commission

In late September, the Kopernikus project ENavi presented their interactive simulation tools at the 28th meeting of the Committee on Sustainable Energy of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) in Geneva. The tools can be used to demonstrate the impacts of measures to develop more sustainable transportation systems and expand renewable energy generation capacities.

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Education

Learning about Carbon: IASS Develops Educational Resource

The “Future Box: Carbon” developed by the IASS in cooperation with Berlin’s Futurium Museum offers school pupils an exciting and hands-on introduction to climate change and raw materials. This learning resource is suitable for use in classes from 8th Grade up and for all school types. The Future Box can be used in different subjects and will help to build awareness of sustainable development issues.

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Climate Opportunity 2019

Focusing on the Co-benefits of the Energy Transition

Ministerial representatives and experts from around the world met in Berlin over two days at the Climate Opportunity 2019 Conference to learn from each other about the co-benefits of transitions towards more sustainable energy systems. The conference also provided a space for the development of strategies to leverage the co-benefits of individual climate protection measures in the course of political decision-making processes.

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Interactive map of Europe

Europe’s Future is Renewable

Europe has enough solar and wind resources to meet its electricity demand entirely from renewable sources. A new study by researchers at the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies (IASS) in Potsdam shows that many regions and municipalities could meet their electricity demand using electricity systems based exclusively on renewables. However, their development would exacerbate land use pressure around metropolitan areas and larger conurbations.

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Energy Transition

The Lessons of Failed Energy Policies

Even though electricity generated from solar and wind energy is becoming increasingly cost-competitive, the expansion of renewable energies continues to depend on policy support. When such support is lacking, setbacks to the energy transition can often result – as seen in the cases of the former pioneer countries Spain and the Czech Republic. What energy policy lessons can we learn from this? A study published in the journal Energy Policy makes recommendations for effective policy design.

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Shale gas in Europe

Fracking Likely to Result in High Emissions

Natural gas releases fewer harmful air pollutants and greenhouse gases than other fossil fuels. That’s why it is often seen as a bridge technology to a low-carbon future. A new study by the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies (IASS) has estimated emissions from shale gas production through fracking in Germany and the UK. It shows that CO2-eq. emissions would exceed the estimated current emissions from conventional gas production in Germany.

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Energy Transition

Kopernikus Project ENavi Presents Preliminary Findings on the Climate Benefits of Germany’s Coal Phaseout

Germany has committed to reducing its carbon emissions to 45 per cent of 1990 levels by 2030. There is a broad consensus that the decommissioning of the country’s coal-fired power plants is essential to achieving this goal. The shift to a more decentralised system of energy generation will, however, result in additional costs for society as a whole.

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ENavi Summer Academy Takes a Closer Look at the Requirements and Effects of the Digital Energy Transition

Digitisation can support the transition to a low-carbon energy system by facilitating the production, transportation and consumption of renewable energies. Digital technologies give consumers a role in determining when, where, and for what purpose energy is provided, how much energy can be saved, and what share of the energy mix renewables make up. From 13 to 17 May, early-career professionals from 16 different countries will meet with experts in Potsdam to discuss the challenges the transition to a sustainable energy system presents to politics, science, the private sector and civil society, and the role digitisation can play in the process.

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Survey on incentive regulation

German Experience in Grid Integration Could Advance International Energy Transition

The distribution grid is the backbone of the energy transition. In Germany, over 1.5 million decentralised energy systems now feed their output into the electricity grids managed by around 900 distribution system operators. Their management costs have increased considerably as a result. How do German distribution system operators cope with the challenges they face, and what can other countries learn from them? IASS researchers explored these questions in a representative survey. Their findings have been published in the journal Renewable Energy.

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2018 Social Sustainability Barometer: Growing Dissatisfaction with Energiewende Implementation Process

A clear majority of Germans across all income brackets, age groups and educational backgrounds still supports the Energiewende. Indeed, since the publication of the first Social Sustainability Barometer in 2017, there has been a notable rise in the number of people who view the energy transition as a broad societal task to which they personally want to contribute. However, there is growing criticism of the implementation of the energy transition by the German Government: Three quarters of respondents describe the process as “expensive”, while over half view it as “chaotic” and “unfair”.

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A Sustainable Energy Transition: New Guidelines for Multi-Criteria Evaluation

Transforming Germany’s large power grid into a sustainable energy system is both a challenge and an opportunity. To succeed in this task, we need criteria that define sustainability and reflect society’s values and priorities. A research team in the Kopernikus Project “Energy Transition Navigation System | ENavi” has now developed a set of criteria that integrates a diverse range of perspectives.

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Energy Transition with Public Participation: The Key to Successful Wind Farms

People are often apprehensive when they hear about plans to build a wind farm in their locality. They wonder how it will change the landscape. And whether the noise of the rotor blades will get on their nerves. People need information about the planned changes, but their direct involvement in the decision-making process is also important, because the expansion of wind energy depends on public acceptance. The Fachagentur Windenergie an Land and the IASS invited representatives from politics, the energy sector, and civil society to participate in the 3rd Workshop on Public Participation in the Development of Wind Farms on 15 and 16 January.

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Climate-friendly Methane Splitting Process

Zero-Emission Hydrogen Production from Natural Gas: German Gas Industry Awards Prize to Researchers in Karlsruhe and Potsdam for Groundbreaking Process.

A new technology developed in a joint research project by scientists at Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) and the Institute of Advanced Sustainability Studies (IASS) promises to provide energy from natural gas without producing harmful CO2 emissions. The process converts natural gas, which consists primarily of methane, into hydrogen and solid carbon. The researchers have been recognized for their work with the Innovation Award of the German Gas Industry.

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IASS Discussion Paper

Who is to Pay the Follow-Up Costs of Lignite-Mining? IASS Researcher Makes Policy Recommendations

The days of Germany’s lignite-mining industry are numbered, that much is clear. The Coal Commission appointed by the Federal Government now has the job of planning how exactly the phaseout will proceed. One issue that is often overlooked in this context is the question of how the rehabilitation of former coal-mining sites is to be financed. A new IASS Discussion Paper examines the risks inherent in the existing financing practice and makes concrete proposals for changes.

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German Government

Monitoring the Energiewende: Expert Commission Draws on Social Sustainability Barometer

On 27 June the Federal Cabinet gave its stamp of approval to the 6th Energiewende Monitoring Report submitted by Economic Affairs Minister Peter Altmaier (CDU). In a statement on the report, the independent expert commission charged with observing the monitoring process has for the first time compiled indicators on public acceptance, drawing on the Social Sustainability Barometer for the German Energiewende. The Barometer, which monitors the social dimensions of the energy transition, was prepared for the first time in 2017 by the IASS in the context of the dynamis partnership.

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Phasing Out Coal: IASS to Investigate Structural Transformation in Lusatia

The region of Lusatia in Eastern Germany is experiencing a structural transformation due to the dwindling significance of lignite. In a new research project, the IASS will investigate the changes taking place there. Karl Eugen Huthmacher from the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) and IASS Scientific Director Patrizia Nanz presented the project at the Lusatia Dialogue on 25 June.

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Low Carbon Transition in Developing Countries: New Project Will Generate Proposals to Promote Energy Justice

The international energy transition is already delivering numerous benefits, but it is also creating new inequalities. The risks posed by this transformation will impact especially on developing countries, which lack access to technologies and capital. What, then, can be done to ensure that these countries too can make the transition to a low-carbon economy? This question is the focus of a new project that will study the systemic impacts of the global energy transition.

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EU project Best Paths

Novel Insulation for Superconducting Power Cable Withstands Low Temperatures and High Operating Voltage

To transport electricity effectively, a superconductor has to be inside an extremely well-insulated tube with an interior temperature of -200°C. Researchers at the IASS, the ESPCI engineering college in Paris, and French cable manufacturer Nexans have now developed a novel form of insulation that is compatible with the low temperatures and the high operating voltage of 320 kilovolts.

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Meeting with State Government

A Future Commission for Brandenburg

The Governor of Brandenburg and members of the state government came to the IASS on 12 December to discuss energy policy and climate protection. Together with the directors of the IASS and the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK), they explored the idea of a Future Commission to ensure that Brandenburg’s energy transition is socially responsible and economically sustainable.

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Blog Posts

U.S. and German Energy Policy at a Crossroads? The Transatlantic Partners and the Future of Energy Cooperation

The U.S. and Germany are moving in fundamentally different directions with their energy policies. Germany has embarked on its “Energiewende,” an energy strategy based on renewable energy and energy efficiency as well as the phase-out of fossil fuels and nuclear energy. It is an important building block in the country’s climate protection endeavors. The U.S. under the Trump administration has abandoned its national and international climate commitments. It is pursuing an “Energy Dominance” strategy that seeks to expand the production of U.S. coal, natural gas, and oil. This strategy marks a significant departure from the Obama administration, which pursued a climate action plan focused on fostering clean energy in the U.S. and abroad.

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Tough trade-offs for new international carbon market mechanisms

Several countries’ national determined contributions (NDCs) highlight climate finance as a precondition for the ambitious action needed to achieve development paths compatible with limiting global warming to 1.5°C in 2100. Many hopes have been pinned on new market mechanisms in this context, but the trade-offs demanded by carbon trading schemes continued to be hotly debated at the UNFCCC last week, not least due to their political and economic implications.

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