Decarbonization Starts Bottom-Up: The Research Project “ZuSkE” Builds on Expertise from the FfE’s Municipal Projects

A drastic reduction of emissions is necessary to achieve the climate targets. This affects numerous applications in the final energy sectors (private households, trade, commerce and services, industry and transport), which are still largely based on fossil fuels. The technical options for reducing emissions are diverse, but the feasability of actually implementing any option is highly dependent on local conditions. Municipalities therefore play a key role on the path to climate neutrality by developing local strategies that take local potentials into account. By networking with local actors (e.g. building owners, municipal administration staff, politicians, industry and companies), municipalities can help activate key players and make an important contribution to creating understanding among the population, in turn enabling implementation.

The currently running research project “ZuSkE – The Future of Sector Coupling at Municipal Level” (German – die Zukunft der Sektorkopplung auf kommunaler Ebene) also focuses on integrating the needs and interests of local actors. The project follows a participatory approach – the project work takes place in an iterative process with three participating municipalities. Through many years of project work with municipalities, FfE can draw on expertise in a wide range of areas. This article contains an overview of previous activities of FfE in the municipal context and illustrates the range of topics that are relevant for municipalities on the way to decarbonization.


Municipal Projects of the FfE

The previous efforts of the FfE to support municipalities in the transformation process can be clustered into the following topics:

  • Energy concepts and utilisation plans: The FfE has already supported a large number of municipalities in the development of energy utilization plans.
  • Climate-neutral heat supply projects: For example Climate-neutral heat in Munich, where the contribution of technical possibilities to the climate-neutral heat supply of Munich and the associated costs are investigated. In the project, there was an intensive exchange with local stakeholders from various departments of the Munich public utility company, various departments of the City of Munich and the municipal housing associations.
  • Climate-neutral heating networks: Such projects (RosenheimLandsberg) deal with the development of a new fourth-generation heating grid, whereby various sector coupling options are also taken into account in the development. In the short study Green district heating, technical measures for the realization of a sustainable district heating supply are examined. From August 2021, the topic of climate-neutral heating networks will be continued in the project Future Strategy for District Heating.
  • Industrial consulting: One of the FfE’s core competencies is in the diverse areas of industrial energy management, which includes many years of consulting numerous companies.The Learning Energy Efficiency Networks (LEEN) initiative should be seen in this context. With the aim of increasing energy efficiency in industry and commerce, FfE supports a large number of companies through energy efficiency networks in Germany and Austria.
  • Flexibility use: Over the course of C/Sells, the FfE developed a concept for using the local flexibility available in the distribution grid, before successfully implementing it in practice in a field trial in the municipality of Altdorf bei Landshut. As part of the Copernicus Synergy research project, flexibility options in the Augsburg model region are being analysed and the transferability of the findings to other regions in Germany is being investigated.
  • Municipal transformation of transportation, such as in the München Elektrisiert (Me), which deals with the establishment of private, commercial, and public charging infrastructure as well as the construction and operation of charging infrastructure on public land by private providers.
    Other examples of electromobility are the already completed projects in the model municipality of Garmisch-Partenkirchen as part of e-GAP, such as the sun2car@GAP project (self-consumption of photovoltaic energy with electric vehicles). In the ePlan-B project, intelligent charging management at Park & Ride car parking spaces was implemented and analysed in Buchloe as a trial region.
  • Energy supply in Africa: Last but not least, the FfE supports the implementation of sustainable local energy supply in developing countries. These include the long-standing cooperation, including on-site consultation on energy optimization, with the Blessed Gérard’s Care Centre (South Africa) or the project with the Ndanda Abbey (Tanzania), in which a concept for an island energy supply was created for the abbey and the surrounding area.
Figure 1: Presentation of municipal energy concepts, testing of intelligent charging management, energy consulting in South Africa

In addition to the technical conditions, the needs of the local actors have emerged as relevant factors in previous projects, both in conceptual work and in practical implementation. The ongoing research project ZuSkE therefore follows a participatory approach in the development of sector coupling strategies. In order to promote the exchange between local stakeholders in the long term, target group-specific communication tools are being developed in the FfE sub-project. The overarching goals and contents of the project are outlined below.


Joint development of municipal sector coupling strategies – the “ZuSkE” example

The current FfE research project „ZuSkE – Future of Sector Coupling at the Municipal Level“ is being carried out in a consortium with the Institute for Technology Assessment and Systems Analysis (ITAS) of the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT), DIALOGIK, and the Civil Society Platform Forschungswende. One aim of the project is to develop and evaluate strategies for municipal sector coupling in an inter- and transdisciplinary manner. An additional focus is on the user-centred, participatory development of communication tools for local actors. These are intended to support municipalities in the transformation process (and beyond). The focus of the FfE sub-project is on the development of a web application. The aim is to standardize the state of knowledge on the topic of sector coupling among various municipal actors and to create a common basis for further dialogue on the transformation of the municipal energy system.

Figure 2: Focus of the FfE sub-project: User-centred web interface as a basis for dialogue between municipal stakeholders

Participatory approach – municipal stakeholders are actively involved

ZuSkE is characterised by its participatory character: the contents are designed in close cooperation with municipal stakeholders from three participating municipalities. The municipalities are the city of Berlin, the city of Walldorf (Baden-Württemberg) and the city of Freilassing (Bavaria). The development of the web application follows a user-centred design (UCD) approach: In several workshops, municipal stakeholders from the fields of energy and climate protection come to the table and contribute their interests, needs, and expertise to the development process. In iteration loops, the web application is adapted to the individual needs of the stakeholders.

Contents of the ZuSkE web application as an FfE sub-project

The overarching theme of the web application is municipal sector coupling options, which are presented in a target group-specific way using texts, charts, diagrams, and maps. The applications of the three municipalities have the basic story in common. They answer questions such as:

  • What is sector coupling and which technologies are available?
  • What options are there for sector coupling measures at municipal level?
  • What are the potentials on site and where are major levers for CO2 reduction?

In the course of the specific website development for the respective participating municipalities, local conditions that influence the municipal energy system and possibilities for sector coupling are highlighted. The following questions are answered on the basis of the analysis of the current status and potentials in the municipalities:

  • What is the status quo of the energy system in the municipalities?
  • What has already been implemented with regard to sector coupling?
  • What further potential and options are there with regard to sector coupling in the municipalities?

Through interactive elements, an appealing presentation of the content as well as the local reference, the topic is to be made accessible to the target groups in an understandable and user-friendly way. Finally, the resulting web application will be made publicly available and its transferability to other municipalities will be demonstrated. More information on the project can be found here.