The four research clusters

Avoiding a climate crisis, while fulfilling a steadily growing demand of energy services, is one of the most intricate challenges that humanity is facing today. The international graduate college TraCE combines excellence in climate- and energy-system research towards a quantitative risk assessment and evaluation of future mitigation and adaptation solution strategies. To this end, the international research training group will offer PhD candidates the opportunity to pursue research at a world-class level, with a strong disciplinary training in economy, physics, energy system theory, political science, and network theory, complemented by a broad, transdisciplinary perspective. Rooted in the two major industrialized countries that have recently embarked on a transition of their energy systems (“Energiewenden”), the project will directly draw from and inform the ongoing economic process and policy debate.

Cluster 1 Energy Systems: One of four research clusters will investigate the physical- and economic dynamics of the national and global energy systems, investigating the opportunities, technological challenges, implementation barriers, market design and economics of a national transition towards dominant contribution of renewable energies, focussed, but not restricted to, the examples of Australia and Germany.

Cluster 2 Mitigation Strategies: A second cluster will examine global and regional emission pathways and mitigation strategies, investigating the linking of emission trading systems, intergenerational equity, carbon budgets, mitigation costs and opportunities of different mitigation options (e.g. short-lived climate forcers).

Cluster 3 Climate Systems: The third cluster will investigate, in a probabilistic and quantitative fashion, key aspects of the climate system¸ focussing on the anthropogenic perturbations, extreme events, tipping points and multi-model uncertainty projections.

Cluster 4: Climate Impacts: Following on, the loop back onto the energy system involves the novel and innovative investigation of climatic impacts onto the global supply network of goods and services with a special focus onto energy infrastructure.

The integrative matrix, the glue in between these four clusters, is first of all the PhD-theses that overarch and investigate research questions that link across these clusters. In fact, ensuring originality of the research questions at the frontline of scientific research almost necessitates placing PhD students in the overlapping areas between two or more of these clusters, which is why this specific college structure was selected. One outstanding example for a research questions within these intertwined transitions of the climate and energy systems will be feedback from the climate onto the energy system and supply chains. This feedback aspect is novel and will be crucial for an efficient and economically feasible future energy supply. Thus, only by providing a research centre that builds up a critical mass of expertise across these four clusters will be able to support successful research that spans across these themes of climate change and energy systems. This is why the overall graduate college structure promises to deliver more original research questions and more fruitful outcomes than the sum of all individual PhD research could on its own, or two centres that focus on climate or energy transitions separately.

While both partners have world-renowned expertise in all aspects of TraCE, the research strengths in Melbourne and Potsdam/Berlin are strongly complementary. Together, the four involved universities will be able to provide an extraordinarily broad curriculum covering subjects like climate physics, biodiversity, climate economics, market design and network theory. A regular exchange with the University of Melbourne will broaden the students´ horizon, deepen their disciplinary excellence, and enable comparative analyses.

Research Cluster "Energy Systems"

The main part of this cluster "energy systems" will focus on the energy transitions in both Germany and Australia, as well as their mutual interaction. Multiple original research fields are created by the complex real world policy implementation to change energy supply infrastructure at a so-far unprecedented rate. Examples are: Complex network theory for electricity grids, economic and strategic analysis from the operator perspective into optimal energy supply infrastructure operation, national market design for renewable certificates and emission trading systems, optimizing interplay at sub-hourly resolution between different demand side policies within the context of a variable, renewable energy supply side, social side-effects of low carbon policies. The regulation of energy markets with often multiple and overlaying policies like feed-in tariffs, emission trading systems and renewable quotas can provide a strong incentive for a transition towards carbon-free electricity sources. The interplay of multiple policy instruments can have unforeseen, complex outcomes, so that ideally the policy mix would align and complement their implicit incentive structures and minimize administrative overhead costs (which is linked to that public acceptance). This economic research in the real-world context of Germany and Australia is a newly opening research field, while previous economic analysis often considered single policy instruments in isolation and only in regard to single policy objectives (e.g. reducing emissions within the next 5 years). The link towards the other clusters is twofold. First, in the very long term, a renewable hydro, solar and wind infrastructure will have to take into account changing wind, solar insulation, and precipitation patterns. However, the second and more important link will be in the other direction. The next two decades of mitigation action in industrialized and developing countries is critical for longer-term climate change, given that any delay in strong mitigation action has the potential to substantially increase the cumulative emission levels. Thus, this module will cast light on costs, implementation barriers and co-benefits of various regulatory options for the energy markets that are in line with different emission levels over the next two decades.

Cluster "Mitigation Strategies"

The framing part of the second cluster, emission scenarios and mitigation strategies, consists of synthesizing climate system knowledge for policy relevant questions in the mitigation context, international affairs, law, and scenario analysis on a regional and global level. This cluster will strongly focus on the international and national policy context for an energy market transition towards a zero carbon economy. On a general, international level, international effort sharing proposals by government will be analyzed regarding multiple fairness, equity, capacity and historical contribution indicators. For example, the possible solution space for any agreement within the BASIC country (Brazil, South Africa, India and China) proposal on equal cumulative per capita emissions will be explored – while taking into account financial transfer payments. This work stream hence builds the framework for national emission pathways and energy systems in cluster I. The probabilities of different mitigation pathways to attain climate targets, emission budgets, the global technological options for mitigation beyond energy markets, the societal uptake of mitigation strategies and the implications of mitigation (in-)action in the near-term for the feasibility and costs of achieving long-term climate targets are examples for this cluster’s research projects. The framework will allow investigating cost-optimal and second-best pathway options that take into account present-day lock-in effects as well as other political decisions not related to climate change.

Research Cluster "Climate Systems"

The third cluster, climate systems, will focus on short- and long-term global and regional climate responses to anthropogenic emissions. The disciplinary home of this cluster is geophysical climate system science. The transition of regional climates will be investigated in terms of surface air temperatures, precipitation, soil moisture and their extremes, as diagnosed from the CMIP5 complex model ensembles. In addition, this cluster will incorporate the further development of a regional probabilistic sea level rise model and extreme events, monsoon transitions, permafrost feedbacks and other tipping points. This cluster will go beyond the independent diagnosis of geophysical climate induced changes and build a globally synchronized geophysical impact model. A key part of this is the EXPACT model, which will be used to study and parameterize the synchronicity and dependency of regional extreme droughts, flooding, or heat waves – for example by being linked to an ENSO model. This simple ENSO model will be statistically derived from the CMIP5 diagnosis in conjunction with historical observations. Several original PhD studies will form parts of this synchronised model framework.

Research Cluster "Climate Impacts"

The fourth cluster, climate Impacts, will go beyond the geophysical climate effects in the previous cluster and focus on climate impacts on energy and supply chain networks. This cluster is very interdisciplinary by nature and will include climate system science, engineering and economics. Going beyond previous climate impact analysis that traditionally focuses independently on, e.g. agricultural impacts, this cluster will place particular emphasis on the synchronicity of impact events, closely building on insights from the third cluster. Thus, joint effect of multiple events in different regions could be estimated. For example, the Russian drought in 2010 had ramifications beyond national borders by inducing peaks in wheat prices. Linked with the likelihood of similar droughts in other wheat-producing areas, a comprehensive impact assessment would be possible for risk management decisions. Similarly, droughts or changing wind patterns can have ramifications for the operational cycle of power plants. Investigating synchronous events onto the regionally integrated energy supply infrastructure and demand will allow estimating adaption needs more realistically, much beyond the insights that could be gained from separate sectoral or regional analysis. More generally speaking, this fourth cluster investigates the climatic impacts on the global supply network including the energy network. The cluster will compute costs of climate change for society, especially the costs associated with different energy infrastructure. It will further yield information on possible adaptation strategies for the design of a super-regional energy grid.