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 Universities in society on a culture of sustainability at universities. 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 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). Furthermore, the researchers are working on a stronger anchoring of sustainability aspects in engineering education (NaProIng). They support the implementation of the European Commission's Strategic Energy Technology Plan (SUPEERA) and are working on sustainable raw material supply chains for solar cells.


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).

Projects on the topic

To the complete project list


Further contact

Jonas Moosmüller
Public relations
Tel.: +49 721 608-26796

Publications on the topic

Albiez, M.; Schmieder, L.; Weinberger, N.; Winkelmann, M.; Krischke, J.; Parodi, O.
Erwartungen an Wissenschaft in Krisenzeiten: Impulse für die Technikfolgenabschätzung aus zwei Beteiligungsformaten
2023. TATuP - Zeitschrift für Technikfolgenabschätzung in Theorie und Praxis, 32 (2), 36–42. doi:10.14512/tatup.32.2.36
Fricke, A.
Aktiv für den Wandel
2023. Stolle, Michael; Schnaubelt, Manuela (Hg.): Einfach anders machen! Perspektiven für den Alltag, 125–127, Karlsruher Institut für Technologie (KIT) 
Fricke, A.; Parodi, O.; Trenks, H.; Saha, S.
Transdisziplinär forschen
2023. Transformative Geographische Bildung – Schlüsselprobleme, Theoriezugänge, Forschungsweisen, Vermittlungspraktiken. Hrsg.: E. Nöthen, 261–267, Springer Verlag. doi:10.1007/978-3-662-66482-7_36
Parodi, O.; Seebacher, A.
Ethische Aspekte der Reallaborarbeit
2023. Interventionen in Reallaboren : Ein Handbuch für die Praxis. Hrsg.: S. L’Orange Seigo, 53–59, ETH Zürich 
Parodi, O.; Steglich, A.; Bylund, J.
Real-World Lab
2023. Handbook Transdisciplinary Learning. Ed.: T. Philipp, 287–296, transcript Verlag 
Parodi, O.; Wamsler, C.; Dusseldorp, M.
Personal Sustainability
2023. Handbook Transdisciplinary Learning. Ed.: T. Philipp, 277–286, transcript Verlag 
Parodi, O.; Wendeberg, E.
Das Leitbild Nachhaltige Entwicklung
2023. Interventionen in Reallaboren : Ein Handbuch für die Praxis. Hrsg.: S. L’Orange Seigo, 44–52, ETH Zürich 
Stauffacher, M.; Schäpke, N.; Parodi, O.
Was ist ein Reallabor?
2023. Interventionen in Reallaboren : Ein Handbuch für die Praxis. Hrsg.: S. L’Orange Seigo, 13–18, ETH Zürich 
Trenks, H.; Scholz, N.; Bögel, P. M.
Diversifying Power - revisited
Albiez, M.; Stelzer, V.
Werde Solar-Coach
2022. Praxisbeispiele und Reflexionsimpulse zur Weiterentwicklung des Bildungsangebotes an Hochschulen. Hrsg.: Georg Winterseel, Lukas Vaupe, 102–105, netzwerk n 
Albiez, M.; Stelzer, V.; Parodi, O.; Bögel, P. M.; Trenks, H.
Energiewende nah an Mensch und Alltag
2022. Energiewirtschaftliche Tagesfragen, (6), 31–33 
Bögel, P. M.; Augenstein, K.; Levin-Keitel, M.; Upham, P.
An interdisciplinary perspective on scaling in transitions: Connecting actors and space
2022. Environmental innovation and societal transitions, 42, 170–183. doi:10.1016/j.eist.2021.12.009Full textFull text of the publication as PDF document
Cueva, J.; Almeida, I. A.; Fröhlich, K.; Dermann, A. F.; Dermann, F.; Köhler, M.; Grossmann, J.; Meier, W.; Bauhus, J.; Schröder, D.; Sardemann, G.; Thomas, C.; Carnicero, A. R.; Saha, S.
Synergies and tradeoffs in ecosystem services from urban and peri-urban forests and their implication to sustainable city design and planning
2022. Sustainable cities and society, 82, 103903. doi:10.1016/j.scs.2022.103903