Institute for Technology Assessment and  Systems Analysis (ITAS)

ENERGY-TRANS: Systemic risks in energy infrastructures

Project description

Helmholtz Alliance ENERGY-TRANS overview

The Helmholtz Alliance ENERGY-TRANS was a large third-party funded project of ITAS. All ITAS research areas were involved and linked in the Alliance with sub-projects. ENERGY-TRANS research focused on the energy transition and related requirements for the transformation of the energy system. Core assumption of ENERGY-TRANS was that this transformation does not only include technical, but also different societal challenges.

Important issues are, for example, changes in user and consumer behavior, acceptance problems and conflicts relating to new infrastructures such as high-voltage lines, suitable political and economic conditions for initiating and promoting the necessary innovations, adequate operator models for decentralized energy systems, and also handling complex, uncertain and ambiguous risks associated with new energy systems. To meet these challenges, the Helmholtz Alliance has launched a research program that investigated the systemic interactions between technology, organization, and behavior in Germany. The emphasis was on the demand side of energy systems and focused on user needs, integrated scenario building, innovation diffusion, infrastructure planning, and risk governance.

More than 80 social and political scientists, psychologists and philosophers, economists, legal scholars, engineers and systems analysts from nine institutions collaborated in five research fields, 17 projects, two horizontal tasks and two integrative key topics. The KIT coordinated the Alliance which ran from September 2011 until December 2016.

Besides the University of Stuttgart, ITAS provided the largest research contingent and participated in ENERGY-TRANS with about 20 scientists. Corresponding to the complex tasks of ENERGY-TRANS, the Alliance integrated ITAS expertise from all research areas. The highly interdisciplinary research also addressed important issues of the Helmholtz program “Technology, Innovation and Society” (TIS).

Systemic risks in energy infrastructures

In future energy infrastructures, information and communication technologies (ICT) will play a larger part in managing a more virtualized and decentralized energy supply and provide additional consumer services to enhance energy efficiency. ICT infrastructures increasingly converge with energy infrastructures (“smart grid”) and transportation infrastructures (“e-mobility”). These interactions and interdependencies among different infrastructures and the nature of multiple-actor and multi-level governance structures will result in more complex, uncertain and ambiguous constellations that may cause systemic risks.

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


Book Chapters
Büscher, C.; Schippl, J.
Die Transformation der Energieversorgung: Einheit und DIfferenz soziotechnischer Systeme.
2017. Die Energiewende verstehen - orientieren - gestalten : Erkenntnisse aus der Helmholtz-Allianz ENERGY-TRANS. Hrsg.: J. Schippl, 37–52, Nomos Verlagsgesellschaft 
Journal Articles
Conference Papers
Sumpf, P.; Büscher, C.; Orwat, C.
Energy system transformation. Governance of trust?.
2014. Technology Assessment and Policy Areas of Great Transitions : Proceedings from the PACITA 2013 Conference, Praha, CZ, March 13-15, 2013. Ed.: T. Michalek, 223–228, Technology Centre ASCR 
Büscher, C.
Pharmazeutika im Trinkwasser: Krankenbehandlung als systemisches Risiko?.
2014. 37. Kongress der Deutschen Gesellschaft für Soziologie, Trier, 6.-10.Oktober 2014 
Lösch, A.; Schneider, C.
Smart grid experiments as producers of the presents and futures of the energy transition.
2014. Better Technologies with no Regret? : S.NET 6th Annual Meeting, Karlsruhe, September 21-24, 2014 
Lösch, A.; Schneider, C.
Visionen als Experimentalbedingung. Das Smart Grid im Prozess der Energiewende.
2014. Die Bedeutung technischer Zukunftsvorstellungen für die Entwicklung, Einführung und Bewertung neuer Technologien, Duisburg, 22.-23.Mai 2014 
Lösch, A.; Schneider, C.
Die interdependenten Experimente der Energiewende - Eine Umstellung der Innovations- und Governancemodi von Disziplinar- auf Experimentalmacht.
2014. Workshop ’Experimentelle Gesellschaft - Das Experiment als wissensgesellschaftliches Dispositiv?’, Karlsruhe, 20.-21. Februar 2014 
Sumpf, P.
Patterns of trust and acceptance. The challenge of enabling action in emerging energy systems.
2014. European Meetings on Cybernetics and Systems Research (EMCSR 2014), Wien, A, April 22-25, 2014 
Journal Articles
Büscher, C.; Schippl, J.
Die Transformation der Energieversorgung: Einheit und Differenz soziotechnischer Systeme.
2013. Technikfolgenabschätzung - Theorie und Praxis, 22 (2), 11–19 
Büscher, C.; Schippl, J.; Buchgeister, J.; Sumpf, P.
The “Energy System” - Abstractions and reductions in the concept of sociotechnical systems.
2013. EnergyTrans Conference (2013), Karlsruhe, Germany, October 9, 2013 
Büscher, C.; Schippl, J.; Buchgeister, J.; Sumpf, P.
The ’Energy-System’. Abstractions and reductions in the concept of sociotechnical Systems.
2013. Energy Systems in Transition: Inter- and Transdisciplinary Contributions, Karlsruhe, October 9-11, 2013 
Lösch, A.
Die diskursive Herstellung von Risiken in öffentlichen Diskursen zu Nichtwissen.
2013. Internationalen Konferenz des Forschungsnetzwerks Sprache und Wissen “Risikodiskurse/Diskursrisiken. Europäische Perspektiven auf den sprachlichen Umgang mit Technikrisiken”. Heidelberg, 09.-11.09.2013 (2013), Heidelberg, Germany, September 9–11, 2013 
Lösch, A.; Schneider, C.
Energy transition as risky societal experiments: The Role of smart grid visions, field tests and expected challenges.
2013. Energy Systems in Transition: Inter- and Transdisciplinary Contributions, Karlsruhe, October 9-11, 2013 
Book Chapters
Büscher, C.; Mascareno, A.
Mechanisms of systematic risk production.
2012. Heinrichs, D. [Hrsg.] Risk Habitat Megacity Heidelberg [u.a.] : Springer, 2012 e-ISBN 978-3-642-11544-8, 39–63 
Lösch, A.
Systemic risks of energy transition.
2012. 4th iNTeg-Risk Conf., Stuttgart, May 6-8, 2012 
Journal Articles
Orwat, C.
Systemic risks in the electric power infrastructure?.
2011. Technikfolgenabschätzung - Theorie und Praxis, 20 (3), 47–55 


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