Germany's Energy Transition constitutes a massive technological, economic, social and cultural challenge for North Rhine-Westphalia's society and its decision-makers from politics and business. With regard to the technological dimension of the energy transition, integrating renewable energies into the energy system and, at the same time, ensuring a high degree of energy security are among of the most important tasks. Other challenges are compatibility of different technological systems, limiting the costs of the overall process to maintain the international competitiveness of German companies, the need for investments and new infrastructures as well as limited resources. Furthermore, a great variety of different stakeholders, societal groups and political decision-makers need to get involved and bring in innovative impulses.
Being Germany's centre of industrial operations and energy production, the energy transition leads to special challenges for North Rhine-Westphalia. NRW is characterised by a high concentration of energy-intensive industries and accommodates full chains of value creation for numerous industrial branches or products. Furthermore, North Rhine-Westphalia features high spatial heterogenity ("Rheinschiene", "Ruhrgebiet", rural areas etc.). Considering socio-demographic parameters, NRW indicates the highest agglomeration of population in Europe and a high density of population with highly heterogeneous societal patterns. At the same time, North-Rhine Westphalia is home of excellent researchers with a large number of Universities and independent research institutes.
The sustainable transition of the energy supply system of NRW shall be scientifically accompanied and supported by the Virtual Institute (VI) "Transformation - Energy Transition NRW". This project shall prepare the set up of the VI, develop clusters of prioritised research topics and identify relevant research institutes, which could become part of the VI. The focus of the Virtual Institute is on socio-economic implications of the energy transition process under explicit consideration of North Rhine-Westphalia's specific framework conditions.
The project is commonly coordinated by the Wuppertal Institute and the Institute for Advanced Study in the Humanities (KWI) of University Duisburg-Essen. The following three research clusters will be at the centre of the project:
Furthermore, the project team will develop a conceptual framework for realising the Virtual Institute.
After finalisation of the project, the ideas gathered and discussed by the consortium will be used for implementing the VI. This process will most likely start at the end of 2014. The VI will identify research questions with high relevance for the concrete implementation of the energy transition in North Rhine-Westphalia and formulate project ideas against this background. Furthermore, the VI will involve and connect Universities and research institutes in North Rhine Westphalia, which are actively working in this field and, thereby, help to strengthen NRW's research community.
The VI will scientifically accompany the implementation of the energy transition process and make a strong and continuous contribution to its successful realisation and the resulting structural change in NRW. Doing so, the Virtual Institute will produce background information for decision-makers from politics and business based on scientific analyses and knowledge. Furthermore, it will develop concepts for an improved public communication of strategies and targets of the energy transition as well as their impact. Assessments of the energy transition's impact on NRW's industry sector, concepts for communicating the aim and process of the energy transition to the public and approaches for extended public participation shall help decision-makers to derive and develop concrete and specified political measures.