ENERGY-TRANS: Analyzing socio-technical systems


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).

Analyzing socio-technical systems

For analyzing the interplay and the interfaces between societal demand patterns and technological developments the term “socio-technical system” is used. In the context of the Alliance ENERGY-TRANS, the energy system is often conceptualized as such a socio-technical system. The term exemplifies that a transition of the energy system is more than the substitution of old technologies by new ones. However, it is far from being clear what exactly a socio-technical system is and what should be transformed in this system.

In particular in highly interdisciplinary consortia there is the challenge that concepts of systems are implicitly formative for the design of projects. This may lead to inconsistencies in methodological approaches as well as to barriers in terms of integrating the results of different projects. The IKT “Analyzing socio-technical systems” aimed at clarifying the understandings of “socio-technical systems” in the Alliance. In doing so, it helped revealing inconsistencies and building a basis for a better integration of the results of the different projects in the Alliance. It supported a process of “learning” in this field.


Dipl.-Geogr. Jens Schippl
Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT)
Institute for Technology Assessment and Systems Analysis (ITAS)
P.O. Box 3640
76021 Karlsruhe

Tel.: +49 721 608-23994