A lot is riding on infrastructures like water, mobility, energy, or communications, as we heavily rely on these for our basic needs. Infrastructures are also under high pressure to meet changing social, technical and ecological demands, while they are usually very resistant to change. The TRAFIS project (with Katharina Hölscher and Julia Wittmayer) looked into the innovative potential of coupled infrastructure systems, such as heat grids that use server heat, and how these can be mobilised. All the TRAFIS reports are now online (with English summaries).
New technical and societal developments, far-reaching liberalisation and privatisation policies, as well as ecological challenges and demands propel the re-design of infrastructures. The coupling of infrastructures can support transitions towards sustainable and climate-resilient societies. The coupling of heat grids with residual heat sources – for example sewage water or server heat – can support regional energy independence, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and stabilise the price of heat provisioning. Coupled infrastructures combine centralised and decentralised elements – like decentral energy storage in e-vehicles.
The innovation of coupled infrastructures poses great challenges. Coupled infrastructure require radical changes of how infrastructure services are provided and used. Infrastructures are more than technology: they are a part of a socio-technical system. Once in place, infrastructures are therefore hard to change, because they are embedded in existing regulations, user expectations and market structures.
Against this background, the TRAFIS project (“Transformation to sustainable, coupled infrastructures”) studied examples of innovative coupled infrastructure solutions, including the associated transformation processes, supporting and hindering factors and sustainability impacts. The focus was on innovative coupled infrastructures in the sectors mobility, energy, water, waste water and communication technology.
The project ran from 2016 to 2019. It was funded by the German Environment Agency (Umweltbundesamt, UBA). Project partners were the Leibniz Institute of Ecological Urban and Regional Development (IOER, Germany), Ecologic Institute (Germany), and Brandenburg University of Technology Cottbuss-Senftenberg (BTU, Germany).
We summarise our results in a series of publications:
Sustainability potentials of innovative coupled infrastructures
This study – led by IOER – was dedicated to making sense of innovative coupled infrastructure solutions and their potential sustainability effects related to performance, resilience, resource efficiency and social and economic viability. A sustainability concept including 26 criteria was developed and tested as a “sustainability check” in a Delphi-based approach with over 100 experts. The results of the evaluation show specific strengths and weaknesses of coupled infrastructure solutions. This report describes the Delphi study and results in detail:
Coupled infrastructures and sustainability transitions: influencing factors and intervention opportunities
This study – led by DRIFT researchers Katharina Hölscher and Julia Wittmayer – identified the factors and activities influencing the implementation and diffusion of innovative coupled infrastructures. We formulate a set of action and support options for the federal government as well as for local and regional infrastructure planners. To read more, check our final report and our nine case studies.
Supporting processes around innovative coupled infrastructures and checking for key influencing factors
Here, we report on how we employed action-oriented research to support the on-going development of innovative coupled infrastructures and corresponding transformation processes. Local actors participated as action research partners. This work was led by the Ecologic Institute. For more information on our action-oriented research and results, see this report:
And you can find a synthesis of all results here:
July 15, 2020