de.zentral – Institutionally and technologically consistent energy strategies for a rather central or decentralized energy transition in Germany

Ecologically and socially sustainable transformation of the energy system

In 2011, the German government passed a comprehensive bundle of regulations that marked the beginning of the energy transition in Germany. Thus, far-reaching consequences for the German energy system and its embedment in the European energy market arise. Nevertheless, a consensus is far from being reached. Different stakeholder have very different expectations towards its actual design. While more locally rooted actors call for a decentralized energy system, the European Commission and economically oriented voices advocate a stronger centralization. Which options exist to design the transformation of the energy system in regard of the contradicting visions of a centralized or decentralized energy supply?

Research Questions

A closer examination requires a more differentiated understanding of decentralization and centralization, e.g. concerning energy network expansion and electricity generation. Which technologies and institutions are consistent when energy strategies are to be developed in decentralized or centralized manner? How can different levels of institutions interact? To which degree do proposed paths contradict one another, where are they complementary? Which institutions are needed for the implementation of a decentralized or centralized transformation of the energy system?

Project Goals

The project de.zentral had three main objectives: First, the development of technologically, economically and institutionally consistent energy strategies for the transformation of the German energy system. Second, a better understanding of the limits, possibilities and interdependencies of decentralized and centralized design options of the German energy transition. And third, these energy strategies were meant to contribute to a broader social and political dialogue.

Expected research results

The first phase of the project de.zentral aimed to create a systemic analysis of different perceptions of the energy transition. For this purpose, narratives were developed that meet these perceptions. It was already evident that different actors, depending on whether they favor more decentralized or more centralized solutions, pursue different goals. While the justification of centralized solutions was mainly based on energy efficiency strategies and economies of scale, decentralized solutions put a focus no only climate protection issues, but also on additional goals like regional development or local job creation.

The second phase of the project was focused on an in-depth analysis and development of centralized and decentralized design options. These design options were highlighted from the three perspectives: technologies, institutions and actors. In the third and final phase, in a transdisciplinary synthesis at least two proposals for consistent energy strategies were generated – a more decentralized and a more centralized one.

Implementation strategies

The practical application of the project findings was guaranteed by the strong involvement of the project partners. Namely the Bundesverband der Energie- und Wasserwirtschaft e.V., Germanwatch e.V., Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik, 8KU and the Verband kommunaler Unternehmen e.V.

With their help, as well as the help of other major actors in the energy sector, the narratives and the energy strategies were subject to a practical test in form of two stakeholder-workshops.

Furthermore, the project results provided an informed and structured basis for a political discourse.

Project Management

Prof. Dr. Klaus Eisenack,

Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Resource Economics Group, Unter den Linden 6, 10099 Berlin, Email: klaus.eisenack (at)


Financial aid for the project was provided within the Socio-Ecological Research (SÖF) program of the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF).

Project Duration

August 2013 – 31. March 2017