Energy transition: How can we design urban energy systems to be sustainable?

Research questions

  • Which sustainable technology and infrastructure options are suitable for the energy transition in urban areas (renewable energies, energy efficiency, sector coupling)?
  • Which policy instruments and incentive mechanisms are suitable for promoting the transformation of the energy system in urban areas?
  • How can (social) innovations contribute to designing sustainable urban energy systems?
  • What role does the social acceptance of different actor groups play for the energy transition in urban areas?
  • Which actor and network relationships enable or obstruct the sustainable transformation of urban energy systems?
  • How can cities and towns build up the competencies they need to implement the energy transition?
  • What role do urban areas play in achieving national and international climate targets?  


Participatory and socially responsible heating transition in the Neighborhood (WÄRME4ALLE)

The search for long-term, reliable, effective and socially acceptable solutions for the heating transition in neighborhoods is currently one of the biggest challenges for the housing industry and is equally important for the tenants affected and the planning administration. Problematic decisions are still often made when it comes to energy-efficient renovations and the expansion of the heat supply in neighborhoods, which do not sufficiently take into account the different, sometimes conflicting needs of tenants and the housing industry. For this reason, the WÄRME4ALLE project aims to develop a transparent and participatory planning process with the housing associations associated with the project in the sense of a resilient and socially acceptable heating transition, which can also be transferred to other neighborhoods in Germany in the future.


Act!onHeat will accelerate the use of strategic heating and cooling planning in cities and regions throughout Europe. The project will identify the success factors of strong and efficient existing Heating and cooling plans and develop a workflow for strategic H&C planning based on existing open source tools.

Act!onHeat will engage local governments and support:

  • 120 municipalities that start, continue or improve strategic heating and cooling planning, encouraged by support packages.
  • 30 pre-feasibility studies carried out for individual projects within the municipalities. Encouraged by support packages and advice.
  • 15 projects for which financing options are being developed

Morgenstadt Global Smart Cities Initiative – MGI

Cities have a pivotal role to play in the achievement of the goals of The Paris Agreement. Towards mid of the century, continuous demographic growth and urbanization will add 2.5 billion people to urban areas, mostly in mid-size cities of the Global South.

The Morgenstadt Global Smart Cities Initiative (MGI), funded by the International Climate Initiative (IKI), supports three mid-size model cities in India, Mexico and Peru in the development and implementation of sustainable transformation processes. The Initiative uses the City Lab Methodology to develop integrated strategies and roadmaps for sustainable urban development in the selected cities. Based on an analysis of local development demands, replicable, viable solutions and strategies towards climate change mitigation and adaptation are generated. Beyond the holistic analysis of the status quo and the development of integrated sustainable strategies, selected measures are accompanied in their implementation.

The project is coordinated by the University of Stuttgart IAT in cooperation with Fraunhofer IAO, while Fraunhofer ISI coordinates the development of the City Lab in the Mexican City of Saltillo, conducts assessments of the energy sector in Mexico and Peru and estimates of the CO2 impacts of projects measures in the three cities in Mexico, Peru and India.

Social Innovation in Energy Transitions (SONNET)

Social innovations in the energy sector are said to enable faster transitions to sustainable energy systems. Initiatives such as energy cooperatives and prosuming peer groups (people producing their own energy), are becoming more common and have attracted interest from researchers and policy makers alike.

The research project SONNET (Social Innovation in Energy Transitions), will work with a range of stakeholders from across energy initiatives in the community, industry, academia, government, councils, and local actors to create a better understanding of social innovations in the energy sector, critically assessing the success, contributions and future potential of social innovation. Through developing practical recommendations and tools, the project aims to build the innovative capacities and strong networks of social innovation and energy actors, strengthen their networks, identify new market opportunities for social innovation in the energy sector and enable multiple actors to increase their engagement with social innovations.

Public Authorities together with a holistic network approach on the way to low-carbon municipalities (Path2LC)

The overarching objective of the PATH2LC project is to support policy makers and public authorities at local level in the transition process towards a low carbon society. Through a holistic network approach, stakeholders in public authorities are linked among municipalities in order to enable peer-to-peer learning and increase the engagement in energy and climate transition. The network approach shall also accelerate the implementation of Sustainable Energy (and Climate) Action Plan (SE(C)AP) measures.

The PATH2LC project will foster the exchange of existing knowledge and experiences among municipalities, enhance coordination among different administrative bodies within the municipalities and improve cooperation with local stakeholders and civil society. It will furthermore provide stakeholders in public authorities with the necessary planning and monitoring tools to implement transition roadmaps.  

The relevance of non state actors for individual climate protection activities and climate policy (NostaClimate)

The goal of the research project NostaClimate is the explicit analysis of the role of non-state actors and their interactions with state and individual actors. Non-state actors include civil society groups (e.g. churches, non-governmental organizations), economic actors (e.g. firms, trade unions), and subnational and local actors (e.g. municipalities).

Transition design for sustainable innovations – Initiatives in the municipal fields of action energy, water, construction & housing (TransNIK)

Innovative approaches towards sustainability can be observed in various areas, including traditional municipal fields of action, such as: energy supply, water supply & sewage disposal, as well as construction and housing. TransNIK aims to investigate drivers and obstacles for the development and dissemination of innovative sustainable approaches in these three fields of action and to identify key points for a transition to new solutions.

Determining the effects of renewable methane in the transport and power sectors (MethQuest_MethSys)

The partners in this group take a macroeconomic approach to identifying the effects that the large-scale introduction of alternative fuels would have. The work also uses results from other groups so that MethSys has something of a consolidating function within the main project. The decisive aspect of work in MethSys is that it aims to further develop and link models that until now remained separate and dealt only with partial sections of the energy system such as electricity and gas grids.

Innovative Use of Wasteheat using sewers for energy transport (InnoA2_up)

The overall objective is the detailed elaboration and evaluation of specific implementation options for flagship projects for the development of previously unused decentralized waste heat potential through heat transport and distribution to heat consumers in the existing sewer system.

Transforming the municipal energy system – sector-coupled infrastructures and strategies for involving local actors (TrafoKommunE) / sub-project mobility scenarios and coupling the distribution networks for electricity and gas

The project focuses on the general context of sector-coupled energy transition and homes in on the relevance of the existing infrastructure, which has not been given sufficient attention to date, and the impacts of measures in the context of the energy transition. In addition to infrastructures, user behavior and the acceptance of measures are very important for implementing the energy transition and transforming energy supply. The actors involved are frequently diverse, especially at the municipal distribution network level, and have conflicting interests that must be considered.

Fostering the use of renewable energies for heating and cooling (progRESsHEAT)

The progRESsHEAT project aims at assisting local, regional, national and EU political leaders in developing policy and strategies to ensure a quick and efficient deployment of renewables in heating and cooling networks.

More specifically, the project provide policy makers with help in developing integrated, effective and efficient policy strategies aimed at achieving a fast and strong penetration of renewable and efficient heating and cooling systems. This includes the analysis of cross-sectoral effects between renewables and energy efficiency measures in industrial heat and cold, waste heat, heating and cooling in buildings and district heating.

Heating and Cooling: Open Source Tool for Mapping and Planning of Energy Systems (hotmaps)

The overarching goal of Hotmaps is the development of an open source heating / cooling mapping and planning toolbox and to provide default data for EU28 at national and local level. These data and tool allow public authorities to identify, analyse, model and map resources and solutions to supply energy needs within their territory of responsibility in a resource and cost efficient way. Hotmaps will help authorities to develop heating and cooling strategies on local, regional and national scale which are in line with RES and CO2-Emission targets on national and EU level.


Method portfolio

  • Scenario-based modeling of the energy system and greenhouse gases
  • Policy design / evaluation / impact assessments
  • Transdisciplinary research through City Labs
  • Scenario-based analyses
  • Agent-based simulation
  • Techno-economic and socio-economic evaluations
  • Analyses of markets, competition and value chains
  • Quantitative and qualitative evaluation of technologies, e.g. to supply heating and cooling
  • Preparation of marginal abatement cost curves
  • Social science methods including collecting and evaluating data such as acceptance surveys and interviews, network analyses, workshops, statistical and econometric analyses, qualitative and quantitative text analyses