29. April 2021 | Home

Accelerating the energy transition: Research Group develops smart control of the decentralised system

The German energy system is changing fundamentally: it is becoming more decentralised and self-organised, many renewable energy plants are taking the place of a few large power plants - many more actors that need to be integrated technically and organisationally into a sustainable energy system. How can this work? The junior research group SteuerBoard Energie of the Institute for Ecological Economy Research (IÖW), the Leuphana University of Lüneburg and the Ecolog Institute for Social-Ecological Research and Education, with funding from the Federal Ministry of Education and Research, is investigating how the renewable decentralised energy system can be controlled at different levels.


"The energy transition needs to pick up speed significantly. In recent years, however, the momentum has slowed down on the local level. The reason for this are changes in the legal and economic framework conditions, which are putting the brakes on local actors such as energy communities or neighbourhood projects. This development is worrying, because the energy transition needs the innovative, decentralised actors," says Swantje Gährs, energy expert at the IÖW and head of the junior research group. "If local actors can act in a self-organised way, this increases motivation and acceptance. However, self-organisation needs room for manoeuvre. A legal framework that clearly outlines this scope for action is still missing," says Gährs. The researchers start from the concept of polycentricity: Several controlling authorities at different levels set norms and rules.


In particular, the research group is investigating how suitable financing and participation instruments, as well as digital applications, can support even more local actors to contribute to the energy transition in a bottom-up, independent and self-organised manner. The researchers from different disciplines are developing a vision of the energy system of the future together with practitioners from the energy and finance sectors and civil society organisations.


Energy transition needs financing


"The actors need financing instruments with which they can operate renewable energy plants or grids, for example," says Lars Holstenkamp, head of the group and financing expert at Leuphana University of Lüneburg. "Which form of financing is possible by which actors depends in turn on the legal framework." For example, tenders or so-called power purchase agreements entail additional risks that are more difficult for small players to bear. And the requirements of banks for these players are increasing. At the same time, the European Union has decided that its member states should promote "energy communities" of citizens, local companies and municipalities.


It is not only energy law that is changing, but also the framework for the financial sector towards a stronger focus on sustainability. In the five-year project period, the researchers are therefore also taking a closer look at motives of financial market actors and investigating how they influence social mobilisation in the energy sector.


Digitalisation: Energy system must become smart


In order to store renewable energy and advance the connection of electricity with heat and mobility, digital technologies are playing an increasingly important role in the energy system. The researchers are investigating how digital tools can support polycentric approaches in the energy sector - for example, by using smart automation, data exchange or visualisation tools to reduce complexity for local actors. In this way, technical, economic and social opportunities of digitalisation are to be opened up for the energy transition. It is still unclear to what extent digitalisation also creates new barriers. Digital tools can help to create understanding and transparency through new possibilities for visualisation or stakeholder participation. However, there is also a risk that processes will become less transparent if, for example, the flexible control of plants is not comprehensible and thus acceptance of digital applications or the energy transition decreases.


The Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) is funding the junior research group "SteuerBoard Energie - Steuerungsmechanismen im polyzentrischen Energiesystem der Zukunft" (Energy Control Board - Control Mechanisms in the Polycentric Energy System of the Future) in the funding measure "Junior Research Groups in Social-Ecological Research" with around €2.7 million.




Contact person:

Dr. Swantje Gährs

Institute for Ecological Economy Research (IÖW)

Telephone: + 49 30-884 594-0

E-mail: swantje.gaehrs@ioew.de


Dr. Lars Holstenkamp

Leuphana University of Lüneburg

Telephone: +49 4131 677-1931

E-mail: holstenkamp@uni.leuphana.de


Press contact:


Richard Harnisch

Institute for Ecological Economy Research (IÖW)

Telephone: +49 30–884 594-0

E-mail: kommunikation@ioew.de  


The Institute for Ecological Economy Research (IÖW) is a leading scientific institute in the field of practice-oriented sustainability research. Around 65 staff members develop strategies and approaches for sustainable economic activity - for an economy that makes a good life possible and preserves the natural foundations. The Institute works on a non-profit basis and without basic public funding.



Leuphana University of Lüneburg has a study and university model that is unique in Germany and has won several awards, with a college for first degree studies, a graduate school with interlinked master's and doctoral programmes, and a professional school for continuing professional development. It sees itself as a public university for freedom and responsibility. Four academic initiatives shape the university's subject spectrum: educational research/teacher training, management and entrepreneurial action, cultural research and sustainability research. Around 9,500 young people study at Leuphana. Around 600 of the more than 1,000 Leuphana employees are academics, 155 of whom are professors.



The ECOLOG Institute for Social-Ecological Research and Education gGmbH is an interdisciplinary research institution that accompanies and supports the social process of transition to sustainable development through scientific analysis, consultancy and education. The ECOLOG Institute has locations in Lüneburg and Hanover as well as a regional office in Bugewitz near Greifswald.