Transition Labs

Ideas Beyond Targets

This page has examples of energy transition brainstorming from Transition Labs around the world. The InTIME results are ideas for shift projects that could be carried out right now to achieve an energy transition step change for a particular company, organization or community. 


The 21st United Nations Conference of Parties (COP21) will be held in Paris in December 2015. The Rio Earth Summit was held in 1992, the UN Framework for action was aimed at stabilizing greenhouse gas concentrations to avoid dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system. 195 countries are now parties to that framework, and the COP is where they meet to review implementation plans to reduce emission rates to below 1990 levels, to limit total global warming below 2oC, and to ensure total fossil carbon produced remains below a cumulative 1000 Gt. The IPCC scenario, RCP2.6, is the only scenario with any likelihood of manageable effects of global warming. The RCP2.6 scenario requires GHG emissions to peak now, and decline to 80% less than the current level by 2050, meaning that at least 4/5 of the economically recoverable oil, coal and gas reserves must not be extracted and burned.

People all over the world have been demonstrating for climate action, climate justice, a renewable energy future and an international agreement on climate change targets. Everything needs to change. Everything that needs to change has been made possible by engineers. When people ask for action, they are asking engineers to change everything so that everything works, all people have access to the necessities of life and contribute to continuous improvement of their communities and environments through their normal activity systems and lifestyles.

How do we take action?

The greenhouse gas accumulation in the atmosphere has changed the energy balance, and the transient response of the planetary system so that increased thermal forcing is taking place. However, the workshop is not about climate change targets or political actions. The workshop objective is to brainstorm and formulate ideas for engineering changes and improvements in existing systems. The problem is reduction of fossil fuel use by 80%. The workshop begins by presenting the Transition Innovation Brainstorm that has helped engineers in many different fields develop projects that trigger change and emergence of the post-fossil systems. The first challenge in the Brainstorm is to "hit the wall" - meaning to understand that there are no solutions and that business as usual futures are not actually possible. By definition, innovation can't happen if there are already solutions. Wicked problems, by definition have no solution. The Transition Innovation Brainstorm is a framework for turning a hopeless situation into a creativity state of play. Several example projects are briefly presented. Then the participants organize into interest groups, and each group brainstorms and works through to generate their own Transition Brainstorm Concept. You will be inspired by what you can do in a couple of hours if you are focusing on the ideas beyond targets and you have a process to guide your imagination and communication.

Interdisciplinary Transition Innovation Management and Engineering (InTIME) 7-Step Method

Curtailing fossil fuel production is a wicked problem. This type of problem is extremely difficult to think about or discuss, and has no conventional solution, only a set of hard choices. The transition framework is like any other engineering methodology, for example, like control theory. By breaking the problem up into pieces, processes and relationships, we can understand the complexities and unleash our creativity. What you discover through this process will surprise and inspire you. The Shift Project briefs that you and the other participants produce will help others understand that the debating points on climate change don’t matter to anyone 100 years from now. The people arguing against change are already on the wrong side of history. Fossil fuels are sunset industries. The era of clearing forests, hunting animals to extinction and fishing out the oceans is winding down. To a large extent the end of this era is due to the depletion of resources, with the exception of fossil carbon which will have declining production due to a change of course. Transition Engineering is the interesting work of changing the course.

  Interdisciplinary Transition Innovation, Management and Engineering  (InTIME) Framework

Transition InTIME Labs

A series of brainstorming Transition Labs were first held around the world in advance of the COP21 Meeting. The objective is for engineering students and young professional engineers to work with students from other disciplines and professional experts to generate a set of project briefs for ideas beyond the business-as-usual climate change targets.   The workshop plan below has additional video links which you can watch which cover many of the subjects in Transition Engineering. The reports for each workshop are also given below, so read and be inspired by the ideas of students from many different countries. Energy is vital to all activities, all products and services. The media and the public have high interest in stories about alternative energy sources and technologies. It is vital that as we work on the transition of existing energy systems, we do not get distracted by energy technologies stories that do not actually represent viable contributors to the transition. The hard work in these brainstorm sessions is in parking the tragedy of what growth economics has already done, unpacking the science of what must be done, getting a grip on the political distractions of what can't be done, and finally, directing our creativity and unleashing our problem-solving abilities to generate concepts of what engineers will get done.

Podcast: Examination of Alternative Energy Stories


  Resources for learning about Energy Transition 

Video:     Transition Engineering with Shift Project Example

Video:     Confronting the Status Quo

Video:     Shift Project Example - GRDF and Natural Gas in France

Video:     Transition Engineering Basics

Video:     The Ultimate Challenge  NZ Business Leaders

Video:     Transition Engineering  Engineers without Borders

Video:     Example - 100 Year Concept Burnside 

Video:     Example - Trigger Projects Dunedin

Video:     Example - No Travel National e-Conference Signs of Change


Sponsored by the Engineers for Social Responsibility and 

Global Association for Transition Engineering



The Transition Engineering Class 2015 Grenoble INP




New Zealand Transition Lab at UC 

2 October 2015, 1:00-8:00 PM
Dovedale Village DC03

Forty participants worked through the afternoon and evening to develop actionable project briefs. The mission was to come up with one project from each team that all of the members of the team would be excited to work on. The participants included undergraduate engineering students from all disciplines and Environmental Science, and postgraduate students from Law, Policy, Arts and the AEMSLab. Each team also had several professional engineers. Sharing meals, learning about brainstorming and keeping the energy high and creative were key to achieving the great outcomes. Fully one half of New Zealand's green house gas emissions are from agriculture - primarily industrial dairy operations which are causing extensive water pollution and soil degradation in Canterbury and across the country. While 75% of electricity is generated by hydro and geothermal, half of ALL energy used in NZ is imported oil, and more than half of that is used in personal car travel with air travel much higher than most countries.

The teams chose areas of critical need for transition: use of oil in transportation, industrial dairy operations, the use of coal to heat university buildings, and the lack of affordable housing, services and cycle infrastructure for students at UC. The feedback from participants was enthusiastic, with many wanting to know about opportunities to pursue further R&D work and study in Transition Engineering. The project briefs developed by the teams were inspirational, and will be taken forward to UC and the innovation incubator.  Transportation by Cycle, University Academic Air Travel reduction by virtual conference technology, The New Student Union Building, New Student Housing Village, and Optimal Land Use Systems Engineering for Agriculture, Water and Forests - All ideas beyond targets and beyond fossil fuels.

New Zealand Shift Projects








Germany Transition Lab

University of Duisburg-Essen 2015


At Duisburg, there was a one-week block-course before the workshop. The students were Masters students in Mechanical Engineering. Students were from Germany, India, Africa and Malaysia. The students will work in teams over the next 3 months to carry out background research in teams of 4-5 and present their projects for course credit at a seminar with full analysis. Germany's main contributors to green house gas emissions are personal transport by vehicles, industry and construction.

Students from India and Africa questioned the notion of their countries being "undeveloped" and proposed that it was imperative that mistakes not be made in allowing development funding to be spent on fossil fuel extraction or fossil fuel-dependent systems. One idea for Germany was the development of assessments of the personal travel adaptive capacity of towns/small cities. While Germans drive about half as much as Americans, the congestion and air pollution seem extreme considering the land use patterns, cycle access and public transport which are already available. The students thought that research into organization of activity systems, real estate and rental finding, property re-development, and subsidies for not owning a car could actually be brought together into a new innovation space that could greatly reduce oil use and improve quality of life. 

Germany Shift Projects



UK Transition Lab in Bristol

28 October, 1:00 - 6:00pm
Bristol University, Queen's Building, 1.17

The Bristol workshop participants included academic staff, post-docs, professional engineers and undergraduate Mechanical/Aerospace Engineering students. More than 60 people gathered for lunch and worked through to the evening and a pint at a local pub. Britain's largest green house gas contribution is from oil and most of that is personal transportation. Bristol is particularly well served with public transportation, but congestion, noise, pollution and cycle safety problems from cars are degrading the quality of life. In Bristol, another major source of CO2 emissions is from industry - particularly food processing, food packaging manufacture, and aircraft manufacture. Britain also has a legacy issue with heating of old buildings. The past few decades of natural gas abundance have allowed heating of buildings with gas instead of coal, but the problem of buildings requiring renovation to reduce heating loads is massive.

The groups brainstormed project ideas and organized into groups around buildings re-developments, food production and transportation, packaging, student flats, personal transport, and re-thinking transit oriented development at the Bristol Temple-Mead station. 

Bristol Project Descriptions

Website for Bristol Workshop



France Transition Lab in Grenoble

2-6 November 2015
Grenoble INP, ENSE3


The workshop in France was held as part of a week-long series of seminars about climate change and clean energy technology. Students across France are organizing for massive actions around the December COP21 meeting, calling for countries to commit to reducing emissions. The current framing of the issue seems to be more about promoting solar PV panels and wind turbines than about reducing imports and use of oil, coal and natural gas, or addressing agricultural practices, destruction of native forests or fugitive emissions of industrial chemicals. The students tend to feel comfortable that they know the "solutions" of green energy. The Transition Engineering approach challenged this comfort. The data is clear; in France the oil used in private vehicles and trucks, and the coal and gas used for manufacturing and heat are what must be dramatically reduced, and solar and wind are not relevant to achieving these reductions.

France Shift Projects

An interesting case study in transition was the move of the institute to a new state-of-the-art building. Of the 2000 staff, 60% drove to work at the old campus. The new building would have no parking. Each staff member worked through a program to develop their individual transport plan using cycle or the tram which stops in front of the building. All of the staff now travel to work without a car, as do all of the students. One project at the new building is to install solar PV panels on the cover for the bike parking and use the produced power in the building, for example storing it in laptop batteries. By installing 670 m2 of panels, the generating capacity of 100 kW could be achieved at a capital cost of around €240,000. Using the PVWatts solar modelling calculator, this system would produce 105,235 kWh per year. Looking at the numbers for carbon emissions, the reduction from electricity use in France (80 gCO2/kWh) by using solar PV, would represent 8,419 kgCO2/yr, not counting the CO2 use to produce the panels. Let's compare the carbon emissions reduction from the 1200 staff who have replaced their car trip with non-carbon mode. The driving reduction is estimated at  2400 km/day, eliminating the use of about 40,000 liters of fuel per year, and not emitting over 110,000 kgCO2/yr. This carbon emission reduction does not require any capital investment and does not require any manufacturing emissions in China. The opportunities for simply applying constraints and achieving transitions to eliminate fossil fuel use must be understood to be the key to arresting climate change.

The area around the new building is nearly all science labs and industrial land use. The students proposed an interesting project of designing and building a student ecovillage within walking distance of the campus. It would be interesting to model the land use, costs of building, the different types of housing, and to see if the ecovillage could be a viable part of the larger urban fabric when it is focused on a particular community like the university students and graduate students with young children. Could it be a living laboratory for urban re-development of automobile dominated land? Could it be an on-going research center for green architecture and low-impact, low-waste, closed-loop lifestyles?

Website for Grenoble COP21 Workshop

Anne-Catherine Favre-Pugin and Susan Krumdieck


On-Going Discussions and Thinking

Heresy is from the Greek word meaning thinking for yourself.  In the workshop we learn that "thinking with the crowd" is natural for humans, but it is the main source of inertia that drives Business as Usual. Heretical ideas beyond targets are continuing to stream in. Participants want to continue the discussion. So keep watching and visit the Facebook page to get involved. 

For so many years, we have taken it for granted that demand for energy will continue to grow forever. Governments and energy companies told us that in the future we would need much more energy than we have now. But - how many Europeans, Americans, Australians actually NEED more energy than they are using now. Here is a heretical idea - in the future we will need much LESS energy than we are using now. Any organization or family that needs only a small amount of energy will have what they need.

Transition the Oil Company

One of the best investments has traditionally been oil. The return on investment is so large, demand was insatiable and inelastic, government spent billions providing the infrastructure for using more and more oil. For most of last century, the price of oil was regulated to keep it low, but the competition to private vehicles and trucks was marginalized and expanding populations owning more cars and driving further distances meant that continuous growth in demand could provide ever increasing profits, even with low prices at the pump.  Chemists and scientists came up with more petroleum products. Governments used their military power to secure access to oil, ports, shipping and pipelines. Oil companies have merged and absorbed each other and grown to essentially unmanageable scale, complexity and disconnectedness -  as demonstrated by the serious safety and environmental disasters of the 2000's. The most lucrative oil fields have become toxic wastelands, refineries and pipelines are aging and straining under lack of maintenance and stripped out labor force.  And now, the unthinkable is happening. Demand has plateaued and is declining.

How does the oil company transition in the next decade? Oil companies have dabbled with biofuels and renewables. Oil companies have broken up and sold off retail, refineries and other un-profitable segments.  But the core business of exploring for reserves, extracting oil and bringing petroleum products to the market is now in the wind-down phase. 80% of the known oil must be left in place. How does an oil company change to become the force behind change instead of funding the lobby to block change?

Transition the Electricity Supply

One of the most conservative and reliable investments has been utilities. Most of the securing of resources like hydro and building of infrastructure was funded by central government. In the early years, profit was regulated, but virtually assured. Although the electricity unit price remained low, the unrelenting growth in demand meant that profits would continue and returns could increase. The population continued to grow, and the number of things people could buy and plug in and leave running grew as well. And now, the unthinkable is happening. Demand has plateaued and is declining. 

We have enough electricity.

Home  InTIME Transition Labs

Account Access