18 July 2019 | updated: 29.10.2021

German Federal Minister for Economic Affairs and Energy Peter Altmaier has announced the winners of the “Living Labs for the Energy Transition” competition launched in spring 2019. The list of winners, who can now go on to submit a full application, comprises 20 consortia. Eight of these consortia deal with the area of energy-optimized urban neighbourhoods.

A total of 90 consortia with over 500 partners from industry and research participated in the competition. The first living labs will be launched as early as this year.

They are part of the Federal Government’s 7th Energy Research Programme and will tackle the challenges involved in the transformation of the German energy sector (Energiewende) in a practical, direct manner. Innovative technologies will be combined and tested in a real-life environment and on an industrial scale. It is hoped that this will bring technically feasible innovations to market more quickly and simultaneously make them competitive through economies of scale. The key idea behind this new funding format is the transfer of innovations from theory to practice.

The Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy (BMWi) is providing these living labs with annual funding of € 100 million. In accordance with the cornerstones identified by the Federal Cabinet for the Structural Development Act (Strukturstärkungsgesetz), an additional € 200 million will be provided to living labs for the energy transition in regions undergoing structural change.

The first ideas competition focused on innovative concepts for sector coupling and hydrogen technologies, large-scale energy storage solutions in the electricity sector, and energy-optimized urban neighbourhoods.


Energy-optimized urban neighbourhoods: local authorities to be involved

Regulatory sandboxes in energy-optimized urban neighbourhoods will aim to gain high visibility both within the relevant city and beyond its borders. Integrating living labs for the energy transition in the local communities’ development planning (urban development plans, climate protection concepts, master plans, etc.) as well as actively involving local authorities is of key importance for the sustainable local implementation of the energy transition in household heating. The following eight consortia are the competition winners in the energy-optimized urban neighbourhoods category:

DELTA: showcase for urban energy transition through interconnected, energy-optimized neighbourhoods

Coordination: Technische Universität Darmstadt with industrial partners

To secure the future of our energy system, energy use in urban neighbourhoods must be optimized. In addition, these neighbourhoods must interact with each other so that the energy demand of cities as a whole can be reduced as far as possible and energy can be used efficiently. As part of the project, several types of neighbourhoods in Darmstadt – from industrial and commercial to educational and residential – will be interconnected by means of grid infrastructures in the areas of electricity, heating, gas, communications, and transport. The DELTA project partners will subsequently analyse and optimize the interaction between the neighbourhoods. This will allow the grids to be utilized to full capacity and coupled so that synergies can develop across several sectors. The overall objective is to reduce energy consumption and carbon dioxide emissions in urban neighbourhoods. Economic viability and social acceptance aspects will also be investigated. Last but not least, DELTA aims to simplify the planning of future energy supply systems, reduce the costs of infrastructure, and minimize the need for new energy capacity.


IW3: Integrierte WärmeWende Wilhelmsburg (integrated household heating transition in Wilhelmsburg)

Coordination: Hamburg Energie GmbH

With its living lab IW3, the Wilhelmsburg neighbourhood in Hamburg has proven that it is possible to provide reliable, affordable heating based on renewable energy sources. In this fast-growing neighbourhood, the heating, electricity, and mobility sectors are coupled efficiently. At a depth of some 3,500 metres, geothermal power is generated and fed into a local heat network. During the summer months, excess heat will be stored temporarily in near-surface, water-bearing rock. Via a virtual power plant, a cross-system technology platform will couple heating, electricity, and mobility in the neighbourhood for an intelligent, efficient, and regenerative energy supply. As part of the regulatory sandbox, the project partners are developing an open heating marketplace that will enable heat from various sources and suppliers to be bought and sold in a transparent, highly automated, and efficient manner. This integrated heating transition concept makes Wilhelmsburg a beacon for the energy and heating transition in urban areas, and one that is transferable across Germany.


Reallabor GWP: large-scale heat pumps in district heating networks – installation, operation, monitoring, and system integration

Coordination: AGFW-Projekt GmbH

A large proportion of Germany’s energy consumption and CO2 emissions can be attributed to the supply of heat. For this reason, the use of large-scale heat pumps offers great potential for reducing greenhouse gases. To develop innovative concepts for this technology, a number of regulatory obstacles must be overcome.
The objective of the GWP regulatory sandbox is to trial economic and regulatory framework conditions as well as to test efficient operating conditions for the use of large-scale heat pumps. The consortium also aims to investigate how large-scale heat pumps can be used for the overall transformation of heat and electricity infrastructure and thus make a major contribution to the area of sector coupling. For this purpose, five large-scale heat pumps with various integration concepts, heat sources, and other specific features will be integrated into German district heating networks. Although the sites are in separate locations , they are interlinked through an overarching central data recording, analysis, and optimization system.

SmartQuart: smart energy neighbourhoods

Coordination: innogy SE

To meet our climate goals, the transformation of the electricity system must be taken further to realize a full-scale energy transition with a much more pronounced interlinking of the energy, heating, and mobility sectors. The aim of the SmartQuart living labs for the energy transition is to demonstrate that this is already technically and economically possible, both within an individual district and across neighbouring districts. The urban areas of Essen and Bedburg in North Rhine-Westphalia, as well as Kaisersesch in Rhineland-Palatinate, have joined together to form this living lab. Networks will be established both within and between model urban neighbourhoods so that the existing energy infrastructures can be used more efficiently. Smart grid solutions will intelligently couple the heating, cooling, “green” electricity, hydrogen, and mobility sectors. The aim is to achieve a climate-neutral energy supply in the model neighbourhoods. In all three urban areas, the residents, energy suppliers, and local technology providers will be involved. The SmartQuart project will represent typical city neighbourhoods in densely populated, rural, and urban areas, so that the concepts developed can be transferred to other neighbourhoods in future.

CityImpuls DD: creating opportunities by implementing and testing innovations in typical neighbourhood structures – Dresden to provide impetus household heating transition

Coordination: DREWAG – Stadtwerke Dresden GmbH

Dresden has a district heating network that has evolved over time, and to which approximately 45 % of the city’s households are connected. To make heat supply more energy-efficient and environmentally friendly in future, the inlet temperature will be considerably reduced on a gradual basis. At the same time, six large solar thermal power plants, heat pumps, and a large heat storage facility will permit the use of renewable energy sources. By shifting from outdated decentralized heating technology towards new market models, the public utility company Stadtwerke Dresden GmbH will also ensure that the city’s residents are actively involved in the transition process. The aim of the CityImpuls DD living lab is to make the heat supply system more energy-efficient and environmentally friendly and thus contribute to reducing CO2 emissions and realizing the energy transition in household heating. To achieve these goals, network hydraulics in particular must be completely redesigned and numerous new technical concepts for generating heat must be integrated in the network.

JenErgieReal: Energy-optimized living lab in Jena with real-time scalable energy storage

Coordination: Stadtwerke Jena Netze GmbH

This living lab will serve as a blueprint for future electrical and thermal energy supply systems, with the mobility sector linking the two. The JenErgieReal project plans to demonstrate how the various stakeholders in the energy system – producer, consumer, and storage facility – can be coupled smartly to allow load distribution in the network to be controlled flexibly. To achieve this, several large-scale electricity storage facilities will be installed in the city of Jena. These will be connected virtually via an ICT platform. The project partners will investigate a number of approaches: neighbourhood and grid energy storage units will be combined with CHP plants and charging stations. The objective is to avoid further grid expansion, for example for newly established electric bus lines. At the same time, the waste heat from the resulting fast-charging processes will be reused. The possibility of integrating the project findings into urban development processes, as well as the acceptance criteria of the system users, will also be investigated in parallel. Once prototypes have been developed and field-tested, the results will be presented to the public.

Reallabor Lausitz: living lab for the energy transition in the Lusatia region – energy-efficient construction and supply systems within the context of structural change

Coordination: City of Cottbus

Energy generation in the coal-mining region of Lusatia has been based to date on fossil energy sources. For the region to remain an economically viable energy-producing area, alternatives to coal-based heat and electricity supply systems must be found. The livingn lab project aims to test concepts for low-carbon neighbourhoods and low-emission transport. At the same time, the economic and social impact of structural change in the region must be taken into account. Regional stakeholders will come together to tackle this challenge within the Reallabor Lausitz regulatory sandbox. The core idea is to bring together stakeholders in the energy economy to support investment decisions in their respective institutions. Within a total of 13 subprojects – distributed across the city of Cottbus and the towns of Spremberg, Lübbenau, and Lübben – pilot solutions will offer incentives for participation, encourage the removal of regulatory obstacles, and demonstrate the viability of innovative solutions. Digitization initiatives will also play a key role.

TransUrbanNRW: transformation of grid-based urban heating and cooling supply systems with intersectoral power-to-heat solutions as a contribution to structural change in North Rhine-Westphalia’s coal-mining regions

Coordination: E.ON Energy Solutions GmbH

The TransUrbanNRW living lab for the energy transition aims to transform heat supply in five locations in North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW). Districts shaped by lignite mining are currently supplied with heat via district heating networks. The living lab consortium will work with fifth-generation heating networks using renewable energy sources and waste heat on all temperature levels.
Fifth-generation heating networks serve as an energy platform for “prosumers”, i.e. users who both produce and consume energy, for example by means of photovoltaics systems on their roofs. In these heating networks, the necessary production mix for heating and cooling supply systems can be synthesized from fossil and zero-carbon production capacities. This permits a gradual changeover from today’s fossil-based production to an electricity-based and increasingly regenerative heating and cooling supply system.
As part of Germany’s coal phaseout, the role of conventional district heating suppliers will thus shift towards the provision of energy platforms for heating, cooling, electricity, and mobility.