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 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

Albiez, M.; Stelzer, V.; Parodi, O.; Bögel, P. M.; Trenks, H.
Energiewende nah an Mensch und Alltag
2022. Energiewirtschaftliche Tagesfragen, 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
Haase, M.; Wulf, C.; Baumann, M.; Rösch, C.; Weil, M.; Zapp, P.; Naegler, T.
Prospective assessment of energy technologies: a comprehensive approach for sustainability assessment
2022. Energy, Sustainability and Society, 12 (20), Article no: 20. doi:10.1186/s13705-022-00344-6Full textFull text of the publication as PDF document
Harzendorf, F.; Wulf, C.; Haase, M.; Baumann, M.; Ersoy, H.; Zapp, P.
Domestic value added as an indicator for sustainability assessment – a case study on alternative drivetrains in the passenger car sector
2022. Proceedings of the 16th Conference on Sustainable Development of Energy, Water and Environment Systems, Dubrovnik, Kroatien, 10.-15.10.2021. doi:10.21203/
Saha, S.; Matzarakis, A.; Albrecht, A.; Fricke, A.; Collet, F.; Almeida, I.; Hirsch, M.; Gangwisch, M.; Cueva-Giron, J. M.; Köhler, M.; Beckmann-Wübbelt, A.; Schobert, M.; Fröhlich, K.; Trenks, H.; Parodi, O.; Böddeker, H.; Kienzler, U.; Reuter, M.
Inter-and transdisciplinary research approaches to increase the resilience of urban and peri-urban forests (UPFs) to climate change impacts - lessons learned from the first phase of the “GreenLung” (“GrüneLunge”) project, Germany
2022. UFFU 2022 : International Conference Leuven : Urban Forests, Forest Urbanisms, and Global Warming: Developing Greener, Cooler and more Resilient Cities : Book of Abstracts, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven (KU Leuven) 
Schopp, K.; Albiez, M.
Postcolonial Gladiators?! Eine Analyse des Reality Formats Global Gladiators, die Afrika Edition
2022. Ethik in Serie - Staffel 2. Hrsg.: S. Meisch, 103–114, Universitätsbibliothek Tübingen. doi:10.15496/publikation-66680
Arzt, I.; Fricke, A.
Sonnendeck für Eidechsen
2021. Baden-Württemberg macht einfach - 17 Ideen für eine Welt von morgen, 44, RENN.süd 
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
Beckmann-Wübbelt, A.; Fricke, A.; Sebesvari, Z.; Yakouchenkova, I. A.; Fröhlich, K.; Saha, S.
High public appreciation for the cultural ecosystem services of urban and peri‑urban forests during the COVID-19 pandemic
2021. Sustainable Cities and Society, 74, Art.-Nr.: 103240. doi:10.1016/j.scs.2021.103240
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
Fricke, A.; Noel, A.; Trenks, H.; Eberhagen, I.; Frank, R.; Senk, M.; Wolff, U.; Mayus, M.; Reuter, M.; Saha, S.
Naturnahes Gärtnern: Mein Beitrag zum Erhalt der Artenvielfalt und zur Verbesserung des Stadtklimas : Info-Broschüre aus dem Projekt GrüneLunge
2021. Karlsruher Institut für Technologie (KIT) 
Fricke, A.; Trenks, H.; Frank, R.; Eberhagen, I.; Senk, M.; Reuter, M.; Saha, S.; Wolff, U.
Naturnahe Gärten - Mein Beitrag zum Erhalt der Artenvielfalt
2021. Karlsruher Institut für Technologie (KIT)