Sustainability and transformation of the energy system

Which local and global strategies point the way to a resource-saving future?
ITAS topic Sustainability and transformation of the energy system

The ecological crisis has been moving further up the list of pressing problems facing humanity for decades – not only because of climate change but also due to the loss of biodiversity, sinking groundwater levels, the degradation of arable land, and the pollution of the oceans. Despite all the commendable progress in the efficiency of modern technology and all the efforts made so far, such as in the German energy transition, the crisis is far from being overcome. Creative approaches and new thinking are needed, also for better use of scarce resources as part of a circular economy. The concept of sustainability points to ways to ensure that future generations can still meet their needs. However, it must be laid down for every individual issue.

The importance of sustainability in our daily lives and its practical implementation in the international community is one of the central research fields at ITAS. The Institute has developed a special integrative concept for sustainability assessment. Sustainability is also at the heart of real-world lab research, orients our research on the reorganization of economic processes toward renewable raw materials (bioeconomy), and guides ITAS’s research on new technologies and transformation paths for the energy system. ITAS also explores fundamental ethical aspects of sustainability.

Real-world lab research

Real-world lab research and development is the subject of numerous projects at ITAS and is characterized by its transdisciplinary nature. The District Future – Urban Lab, for example, was established in 2012 as one of the first real-world labs in Germany. There, in addition to the development of methods, ITAS carries out real-world lab projects, such as Energy transformation in dialogue for the participatory and sustainable design of our future energy system or Climate protection – let’s dare it together for behavioral changes in everyday life. The Karlsruhe Real-world Lab for Sustainable Climate Protection (KARLA), which implements transformation experiments in Karlsruhe with more than 30 partners, also works on this topic. A further key element is the establishment of the Karlsruhe Transformation Center.

Society and energy transition

The work of ITAS aims at dynamically embedding the energy transition in social, economic, environmental and technological contexts. Thereby the perception of the society is a decisive factor. The researchers of the institute adopt a holistic perspective and involve a wide range of stakeholders. For example, they are assessing transformation pathways for sustainable regional energy systems (ENSURE), develop scenarios for the pan-European exchange of energy (eXtremOS) or for remote regions (e.g. in Mexico and Brazil) to overcome poverty. Additionally, the transformation of local energy systems by integrating wastewater and solid waste infrastructures is in the focus (RUN).


In the field of bioeconomy, ITAS evaluates the energetic and material use of agricultural and forestry residues (Energy System 2050) or products made from algae (PHOTFUEL, ABACUS). In addition to ecological, social, and economic aspects, the focus is on the sustainable use of resources and closed cycles (ALG-AD). The resilience of urban forests and their contribution to livable cities is being studied by researchers in the GreenLung project.

Sustainability assessment

The Integrative Concept of Sustainable Development (ICoS) developed at ITAS formulates three overarching sustainability goals: securing human existence, maintaining society’s productive potential, and preserving society’s options for development and action. To achieve these goals, it is important to equally consider and integrate social, ecological, and economic aspects. A particular scientific challenge is the (further) development and application of integrative assessment methods that do justice to the complexity of the application contexts (e.g., the energy system).

Publications on the topic

Baumann, M.; Domnik, T.; Haase, M.; Wulf, C.; Emmerich, P.; Rösch, C.; Zapp, P.; Naegler, T.; Weil, M.
Comparative patent analysis for the identification of global research trends for the case of battery storage, hydrogen and bioenergy.
2021. Technological forecasting and social change, 165, Art.-Nr.: 120505. doi:10.1016/j.techfore.2020.120505Full textFull text of the publication as PDF document
Bergmann, M.; Schäpke, N.; Marg, O.; Stelzer, F.; Lang, D. J.; Bossert, M.; Gantert, M.; Häußler, E.; Marquardt, E.; Piontek, F. M.; Potthast, T.; Rhodius, R.; Rudolph, M.; Ruddat, M.; Seebacher, A.; Sußmann, N.
Transdisciplinary sustainability research in real-world labs: success factors and methods for change.
2021. Sustainability science, 16 (2), 541–564. doi:10.1007/s11625-020-00886-8Full textFull text of the publication as PDF document
Parodi, O.
Zum Verhältnis von Technik, Technikfolgenabschätzung und Transformation.
2021. Gesellschaftliche Transformationen. Hrsg.: R. Lindner, 19–36, Nomos Verlagsgesellschaft 
Parodi, O.; Beecroft, R.; Albiez, M.; Böschen, S.; Defila, R.; Di Giulio, A.; Seebacher, A.
Wer partizipiert woran – und mit welchen Folgen? Erkenntnisse aus der transdisziplinären und transformativen Forschung.
2021. Gesellschaftliche Transformationen. Hrsg.: R. Lindner, 201–217, Nomos Verlagsgesellschaft 
Stelzer, V.
Transformation von Städten durch die Energiewende.
2021. Transforming cities, (2), 58–63 
Albiez, M.
Süddeutsche „Umwelt-, Klima- und Konsumgeschichte“.
2020. TATuP: Zeitschrift für Technikfolgenabschätzung in Theorie und Praxis, 29 (1), 69–70. doi:10.14512/tatup.29.1.69Full textFull text of the publication as PDF document
Emmerich, P.; Hülemeier, A.-G.; Jendryczko, D.; Baumann, M. J.; Weil, M.; Baur, D.
Public acceptance of emerging energy technologies in context of the German energy transition.
2020. Energy policy, 142, Art.Nr. 111516. doi:10.1016/j.enpol.2020.111516
Friedrich, J.; Poganietz, W. R.; Lehn, H.
Life-cycle assessment of system alternatives for the Water-Energy-Waste Nexus in the urban building stock.
2020. Resources, conservation and recycling, 158 (104808), Art. Nr.: 104808. doi:10.1016/j.resconrec.2020.104808
Goldschmidt, R.; Fricke, A.; Trenks, H.
Praxisbeispiel GrüneLunge : Die Journalmethode.
2020. MONARES : Leitfaden zur Unterstützung bei der Evaluation von Maßnahmen zur Steigerung der Klimaresilienz. Mitarb.: T. Kaiser. Stand: Mai 2020, 27, adelphi 
Goldschmidt, R.; Fricke, A.; Trenks, H.
Praxisbeispiel GrüneLunge : Die Posterbefragung.
2020. MONARES : Leitfaden zur Unterstützung bei der Evaluation von Maßnahmen zur Steigerung der Klimaresilienz. Mitarb.: T. Kaiser. Stand: Mai 2020, 21, adelphi