How can we make a success of the “Urban Heat Shift”?

In Germany, a third of final energy is used to produce room heating and hot water – until now, chiefly through the use of fossil fuels. For the “Energiewende” or energy transition to succeed, new approaches are needed to supply heat without harming the environment or the climate. Cities have their own particular opportunities and challenges in this respect. Due to the high demand in metropolitan areas, both decentralised supply systems and various grid-based solutions are worth considering to supply heat to households and businesses. One key to increasing the proportion of renewable heat lies in intelligently linking together heating, gas and electricity infrastructure. The “Urbane Wärmewende” – Urban Heat Shift – project is using the city of Berlin as a case study to examine what this could look like in practice and what development options for a sustainable heat supply are possible.

The guiding principle of an urban heat transition, as followed by the project, is to develop a heat supply for urban areas that is environmentally and socially responsible as well as being resilient and intelligently linked with other infrastructure. In order that this principle can be turned into guidelines for the socially and environmentally friendly transformation of the heat supply, the project is exploring the following questions:

  • How should the various development options for supplying heat in urban areas be evaluated if social and environmental criteria, the interplay between different infrastructure and the resilience of the systems are to be taken into account?
  • What systems of governance in the private and public sectors are suitable for achieving sustainability targets and public interest objectives?
  • How can the energy transition be developed so as to be fair and benefit society when, up to now, various sections of the population have not been able to participate on an equal basis?

Shaping an environmentally and socially acceptable heat supply

The research project aims to develop proposals to transform the energy infrastructure in a way that will benefit society and the environment. It will focus on the heat supply and will use the city of Berlin as a case study. An investigation will be carried out into future heating scenarios for three districts or neighbourhoods within the city. In these “transformation zones”, various technological development options will be worked out and evaluated in cooperation with policy makers and the stakeholders involved in the process.

This project aims to close knowledge gaps – in terms of both the assessment of social and environmental impacts and governance and ownership structures as well as knowledge about the transformation processes themselves. In this way, the project is helping to advance the heat transition in Berlin and, through interdisciplinary findings, providing inspiration for the transformation of the heat supply in other cities. The project will pursue the following specific objectives:

  • Several options for the development of the heat supply for the transformation zones shall be evaluated from different perspectives. In addition to factors relating to society, environment and institutional economics, the resilience and vulnerability of electricity, heating and gas infrastructure will also be considered.
  • What governance structure is suitable for transforming urban energy infrastructure? To answer this question, the project will identify appropriate parameters and planning tools at municipal level and draw up recommendations.
  • Participation processes are to be established both at city level and in the transformation zones. The aim of this is to initiate transformation processes in the on-grid heat supply in cooperation with stakeholders on the ground.
  • The project aims to draw up recommendations on how the heat transition can be achieved in Berlin. This includes improving the available data, as well as developing specific recommendations for selected areas. The assessment methods and tools being developed for this purpose should be suitable for use by other cities.


Insitute for Ecological Economy Research
Project Manager: Prof. Dr. Bernd Hirschl
Co-Project Manager: Dr. Elisa Dunkelberg

Marlen Ihm, Assistant