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Systemic risks in energy infrastructures

Systemic risks in energy infrastructures
Project team:

Büscher, Christian (Project leader); Carsten Orwat; Andreas Lösch; Patrick Sumpf; Christoph Schneider

Funding:Helmholtz Association
Start date:


End date:


Project partners:

ZIRN - Interdisciplinary Research Unit on Risk Governance and Sustainable Technology Development, Stuttgart

Research area:

Knowledge society and knowledge policy

Project description

In future energy infrastructures, information and communication technologies will play a more important role in managing a more virtualized and decentralized energy supply system. These technologies will provide additional consumer services to enhance energy efficiency. ICT infrastructures are increasingly converging with energy infrastructures ('smart grid') and transportation infrastructures ('e-mobility'). These interactions and interdependencies between different infrastructures and multi-level governance structures that include various actors could result in more complex, instable, and inconclusive constellations that could cause systemic risks.

This research project has the objectives to identify systemic risks in the energy sector and to develop recommendations for the further development of governance structures to handle systemic risks. To these ends, the interactions and the mutually influencing developments and transformations of technologies, the political and regulative structures, as well as the institutional and organizational arrangements will be analyzed from the perspective of risk research.

Research questions may encompass, for instance, if and to what extent the establishment or change of regulative incentives and controls by developers, commercial users, and end-users will be necessary for the management of technological risks in order to meet societal expectations. To what extent will new problems arise concerning the assignment of accountabilities and liabilities caused by the increasing multitude of involved actors, and will the provision of public goods (e.g., public testing facilities or data bases) be hindered? How far could technical, structural, or institutional inertia emerge that could cause 'lock-ins' to potentially inferior path-dependent developments? Governance issues could also be caused by conflicting political goals, for instance, between goals regarding safety, economic efficiency, and sustainable development. How could trade-offs between such multiple goals lead to critical decisions and to inadequate safety margins? Such issues also reflect different societal expectations with regard to safety and other energy related values which could be resolved in deliberative procedures. Furthermore, the project will focus on how far structures and mechanisms of regulation, supervision, and controlling are progressing conform to the technological developments in order to avoid additional risks. There will be aspecial focus on the research of structures and procedures of risk governance and of the governance of energy infrastructures with regard to ongoing and targeted technological developments. The project is part of the Helmholtz Alliance "ENERGY-TRANS - Future infrastructures for meeting energy demands. Towards sustainability and social compatibility".



Dr. phil. Christian Büscher
Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT)
Institute for Technology Assessment and Systems Analysis (ITAS)
P.O. Box 3640
76021 Karlsruhe

Tel.: +49 721 608-23181