DEMOENERGY - The Transformation of the Energy System as the Engine for Democratic Innovations

DEMOENERGY - The Transformation of the Energy System as the Engine for Democratic Innovations


Problems and Purpose

Germany's ambitious goal of transitioning 80% of its electrical grid to renewable energy by 2050 requires significant redevelopment and construction. Consequently, the transformation of the energy system brings along conflicts among affected locals and various stakeholders. The Demoenergy joint research project was created to study the potentials and limits of dialogue-oriented citizen participation processes during the Energiewende (energy transition) and the conflicts associated with energy infrastructure projects. This case entry focuses on the participatory process in the North-East of Bavaria co-initiated and evaluated by the Demoenergy research team. The goal of the process was to include local citizens and other stakeholders in the planning of the 'Ostbayernring', a 185 km (approx. 115 miles) long high voltage transmission line running between Redwitz and Schwandorf. 


The energy transition in Germany has set ambitious goals, including achieving a share of renewable energy in electricity consumption of up to 80 percent by 2050. This will require the revision and expansion of transmission grids, together with the construction of wind power energy and solar power production systems. This transformation of the energy system leads to conflicts on various levels that include controversial debates. Citizens and organized stakeholders call for more transparent and inclusive decision-making processes in relation to infrastructural projects that have an impact on the immediate surroundings of many citizens. Discontent often stems from dissent on fundamental decisions taken in a multi-tiered policy and planning process that restrict negotiability of local solutions. 

Demoenergy, a joint research project of the Institute for Advanced Study in the Humanities (KWI, Essen) and the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies (IASS, Potsdam) examines the potentials and limits of dialogue-oriented citizen participation processes in the field of the Energiewende (energy transition) and also the conflicts associated with energy infrastructure projects. One module of the project, coordinated by the KWI and engaging in action research, co-initiated and evaluated a participatory process, which aimed at including local citizens and other stakeholders in the planning of the so-called Ostbayernring, a 185 km (approx. 115 miles) long high voltage transmission line running between Redwitz and Schwandorf (North-Eastern part of Bavaria), which was built in the 1970s. The German government assigned to TenneT TSO GmbH (one of the four Transmission System Operators in Germany), the task of increasing its capacity and, consequently and modifyi the path of the high voltage line. This procedure is part of the “Federal Requirement Plan Act” (“Bundesbedarfsplangesetz”, 2013). TenneT planned to build the new course parallel to the existing one, which would then be dismantled after completion of the new course. However, it became impossible to implement the in some spots, due to planning obstacles.

The researchers and TenneT agreed on the principle of initiating participatory processes only where bigger circumventions were needed, due to planning obstacles. In these areas, including Windischeschenbach and Schwandorf, local citizens and other stakeholders planned alternative routes together. While in Windischeschenbach the participatory process took place under the direction and coordination of the researchers of the KWI, TenneT took over responsibility in Schwandorf, with the KWI focusing on the scientific evaluation. The project aimed at gaining new insights concerning the design and implementation of citizen participation on infrastructure projects in the field of the energy transition.

Originating Entities and Funding

Demoenergy as a joint research project of the Institute for Advanced Study in the Humanities (KWI, Essen) and the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies (IASS, Potsdam) was funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research.

Participant Recruitment and Selection

In Windischeschenbach a planning group was composed of eight citizens, who were randomly selected, as well as the mayors of four affected municipalities, local organizations, public authorities and the TenneT staff. Held parallel to the planning group meetings, public meetings were open to anyone intersted in getting information on the project and suggesting possible routes.

Methods and Tools Used

The process design in Windischeschenbach had two levels: The first level consisted of three public meetings (launch event, feedback event, final event) to which the entire population of the area was invited, where everyone could receive detailed information on the planning procedure and make suggestions for possible routes or give feedback at different points in time. Parallel to these three events, a planning group of about 20 members (local citizens, stakeholder representatives, and officials) was established. This group had the mandate to work out in detail and in line with official planning criteria route proposals suggested by citizens.

Deliberation, Decisions, and Public Interaction

General Framework

The participatory processes were not part of the formal regulatory process. They preceded the phase in which the regional government of the Oberpfalz determined the eligibility of potential routes (“Raumordnungsverfahren”) to be pursued in subsequent planning stages (“Planfeststellungsverfahren”). At the beginning of the two participatory processes, TenneT committed itself to submit the results, namely several possible variants of a new course of the power line, to the responsible regulatory authority. This commitment of the project sponsor was a fundamental condition for initiating the participatory processes and securing their impact. However, it is important to underline that the basic decision that the grid should be expanded based on the “Federal Requirement Plan Act” was mandatory to implement. In other words, participants of the participatory processes could only exert influence on the specifics of the course of the high voltage transmission line, but could not question its necessity per se. Fixed planning decisions for the grid expansion can therefore be problematic, since they limit the scope of action and thus the influence of such deliberative processes in advance.

Development of a Process Design

At the beginning of the cooperation, KWI and TenneT set up a steering group who designed and accompanied the process. The group was composed of the researchers of Demoenergy, TenneT’s management and communication staff and their external experts (i.e. environmental planners) and of professional consultants, who were in charge of moderating the two processes. A communication agency was responsible for the event management process. The process design phase lasted from the beginning of 2014 until the end of September 2014. The steering group worked together intensively and cooperatively took decisions throughout the process (January 2014 to June 2015).

The Participatory Process in Windischeschenbach

The 20-member planning group came together in three workshops. Within this setting, its members were repeatedly invited to critically question each step of the technical investigations made by TenneT’s experts and to make sure that the process would run transparently and fairly. The public events and the planning group’s workshops were set up in their timing and content in a way that would guarantee an ongoing feedback-loop among the two levels. After the first public event (launch event with information about the planning procedure and first collection of route proposals for the transmission course), the planning group was briefed in the first workshop on technical criteria for the assessment of the alternative routes’ feasibility. The planning group further developed these potential transmission routes and the results were presented to the citizens in the next public event (“Feedback Event”). After an intensive investigation of TenneT environmental planners, the detailed results of potentially feasible transmission routes were presented in the planning group’s second and third workshop. In the third and last workshop, the planning group agreed on the most feasible sub-variants and, based on this decision, worked out three main potential routes and then presented them in the final event to the citizens.


The process design in Schwandorf was based on the experience in Windischeschenbach. However, in Schwandorf only two planning group workshops (instead of three) took place, which put a stronger focus on the planning steps of the process and on the technical criteria necessary for the identification of a potential new course. The process in Windischeschenbach put a stronger focus on the equal participation of the citizens. Consequently, a conflict during the Schwandorf process quickly escalated when one of the routes favored by a group of citizens was declared technically not feasible by TenneT’s experts. The result was the founding of a citizens' initiative, which did not agree with the variants suggested by the planning group and considered the process unfair.

Influence, Outcomes, and Effects

Key results from the participation process point out the important role played by the initiators/sponsors, who design and structure the participatory process. If the initiators are also in charge of the realization of the infrastructure project, a conflict of interest may arise. Ideally, sponsors should be perceived as impartial and neutral by the citizens and should act accordingly.

The process design phase proved to be fundamental for the next steps in both cases. Sufficient time for this phase should be scheduled by the sponsor of the process in advance. In addition, local actors should be integrated since the early phases of a project within the steering group who is responsible for the design of the process.

The design of a participation process should also guarantee the transfer of results into the formal process, by making sure that the outcomes of participation fulfill the formal criteria of the planning process. Since a large number of different stakeholders are involved in the process, it is important to diversify opportunities for participation as much as possible. This includes a choice of actor-tailored formats such as public events or closed meetings, lectures, workshops or group work, etc. In addition, the setup of working groups with people of different background and expertise might increase transparency and allow looking at the issue from different perspectives. The procedures and results of a closed group such as the planning group in Windischeschenbach should be made transparent to the public. This has the effect to counteract a feeling of being excluded from a closed and isolated participatory process.

The inclusion of citizens is fundamental in such complex infrastructure projects because of their local knowledge and specific competences. In the case of the Ostbayernring it is striking that the final route suggestions, which have been incorporated into the regional planning process, would not have been considered without this participatory process.

Also important for the outcomes of a process is a qualified, neutral and responsible moderation. The moderation should aim at addressing the needs, perspectives and diverse interests of the participants involved.  In the field of complex infrastructure projects, it is essential to integrate a detailed planning ahead of activities with a comprehensive building strategy. Technical, legal, political and economic aspects must be considered in the design of the participatory process and a realistic schedule should be developed.

Analysis and Lessons Learned

In order to evaluate the participatory processes, in-depth interviews were conducted with the different actors and participants of the process. Moreover, questionnaires were distributed at the end of each event. Results showed a conspicuous divergence between the cases of Windischeschenbach and Schwandorf: The participatory process in Windischeschenbach received higher rates of approval than the one in Schwandorf. This can be explained partly by the fact that the KWI, as independent actor and as main sponsor of the process, might have guaranteed a certain amount of neutrality. Moreover, the process in Windischeschenbach put a stronger focus on the activation of the citizens. In Schwandorf, a conflict arose concerning the possible routes that had been developed in the process. The conflict escalated when one of the routes favored by a group of citizens was declared technically not feasible by TenneT’s experts. The result was the founding of a citizens' initiative, which did not agree with the variants suggested by the planning group and considered the process unfair.


Secondary Sources

Molinengo, G., Danelzik, M. (2016): Bürgerbeteiligung zur Stromtrasse „Ostbayernring“ – Analyse des Beteiligungsdesigns und Evaluation. Kulturwissenschaftliches Institut Essen (KWI).

Richter, I., Danelzik, M., Molinengo, G., Nanz, P., Rost, D. (2016): Bürgerbeteiligung in der Energiewende. Zehn Thesen zur gegenwärtigen Etablierung, zu Herausforderungen und geeigneten Gestaltungsansätzen. IASS Working Paper, Februar 2016.

Rost, D. (2015): Konflikte auf dem Weg zu einer nachhaltigen Energieversorgung - Perspektiven und Erkenntnisse aus dem Streit um die Carbon Capture and Storage-Technologie (CCS). Kulturwissenschaftliches Institut Essen (KWI).

External Links

Energiebeteiligt – Bürgerbeteiligung im Rahmen der Energiewende, URL: (Stand: 31.10.2016).

Demoenergie – Ein Forschungsprojekt zu Konflikten und Bürgerbeteiligung in der Energiewende, URL: (Stand: 31.10.2016).

Kulturwissenschaftliches Institut Essen, PROJEKT DEMOENERGIE – Die Transformation des Energiesystems als Treiber demokratischer Innovationen, URL: (Stand: 31.10.2016).

Case Data


Windischeschenbach and Schwandorf , BY
Bayern DE


What was the intended purpose?: 


Start Date: 
Friday, May 31, 2013
End Date: 
Monday, May 30, 2016
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Who paid for the project or initiative?: 
German Federal Ministry of Education and Research
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TenneT TSO GmbH
Who else supported the initiative? : 
Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies (IASS, Potsdam)
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