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Analysis of a controversial decision process: the case of the pumped hydro storage power plant Atdorf in Germany


  • Manuel Baumann

    (IET/CICS.NOVA, Universidade Nova de Lisboa, Faculdade de Ciências e Tecnologia, and ITAS, Karlsruhe Institute of Technology)


A main problem of Renewable Energy Sources (RES) as solar and wind energy, which represent a main pillar of the German energy transition, is that they cannot supply constant power output leading to an increasing demand of backup technologies as pumped hydro storage. This study analyses in the first part the controversial large scale PHS project Atdorf in Germany. On the one hand this project is seen as a prerequisite for a successful energy system transition by the German government. On the other hand there is also a strong local movement opposing the project mainly due to environmental concerns. It is a difficult tightrope walk to immolate to a certain degree local interests of a few to achieve an ostensible higher goal as a sustainable energy system. Simultaneously an interpretative phenomenological analysis (IPA) orientated approach was conducted to understand the interest of the multi-stakeholders involved in this controversial case and contributed to the development of the story viewed by the ones living it. The IPA was conducted in detail for the citizen action groug “Bürgerinitiative (BI) Atdorf) and offered the possibility to gather unexpected insight into the entire decision process. The Atdorf project remains in this sense very controversial and unveils several problems allocated to the entire process of the energy transition in Germany. It highlights how large infrastructural energy projects can become complex due to multiple stakeholder perspectives, beliefs and interests. The example of Atdorf was then used as a base to build a hypothesis for a dynamic behaviour model of the ongoing decision process. It could be concluded that the project is stagnating due to uncertain market conditions caused by increasing shares of public financed RES, missing regulation and clear targets in combination with local protests. This general model was used to develop a qualitative system dynamics model, illustrated by a causal loop diagram (CLD). Aim of the CLD was to identify leverage points that lead to incentives for new energy storage technologies and allow the achievement of a renewable energy based electricity system. Three leverage points have been identified; 1) amount of Renewable energy which is influencing almost all other components of the system including markets, need for balancing, investment decisions etc. 2) development and the composition of electricity whole sale markets have to be adopted including EU-Emission trading system to avoid backfire effects; 3) higher level of coordination of energy policies, regulation and related targets to provide a better frame for decisions. The identified points could be confirmed via interviews conducted with experts from energy economics. Most participants concluded that there is a severe market problem at the moment facing a high acceptance problem regarding large pumped hydro storage projects. In general the conducted research helped to gather a better understanding of complex decision making processes and unveiled the importance of right communication within large infrastructural projects as Atdorf.

Suggested Citation

  • Manuel Baumann, 2015. "Analysis of a controversial decision process: the case of the pumped hydro storage power plant Atdorf in Germany," IET Working Papers Series 04/2015, Universidade Nova de Lisboa, IET/CICS.NOVA-Interdisciplinary Centre on Social Sciences, Faculty of Science and Technology.
  • Handle: RePEc:ieu:wpaper:64

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    More about this item


    Renewable Energy; energy policies; energy transition; Germany;
    All these keywords.

    JEL classification:

    • D74 - Microeconomics - - Analysis of Collective Decision-Making - - - Conflict; Conflict Resolution; Alliances; Revolutions
    • D81 - Microeconomics - - Information, Knowledge, and Uncertainty - - - Criteria for Decision-Making under Risk and Uncertainty
    • O25 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Development Planning and Policy - - - Industrial Policy

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