Transition Labs with Students around the World

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


Munich University of Applied Sciences 2018            

The Transition Lab was carried out across a semester with students and an industry sponsor. The wicked problem was the use of gas fired condensing boilers for home heating in the Bavaria region of Germany. The German boilermaker, Hoval, patented the self-regulating water heater in 1942. By the 1950's boilers heating water for domestic use plus radiators for heating were quickly taken up in german cities, particularly in apartment buildings and large homes. Over the years the company has invested in research to make the gas heaters as efficient as physics allows. The boilers are robust and reliable. But the market has been dropping, and the use of gas is not sustainable. 

The Shift Project developed for the boiler company was a new kind of controller that would set a total amount of gas to be used over the season, much like the traditional Bavarian use of a specific size of wood pile. The smart boiler controller would "learn" the relationship between the building dynamics and optimal gas use,  track the overheating, anticipate the future need for heat based on centrally calculated estimates and inform the end user. 

 Munich Heating Report


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 Labs 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


Metropole Grenoble 2018 Transition Lab

Metropole Grenoble has set the target to follow the RCP2.6 pathway. The city seeks help in discovering practical measures and projects. 

In the Grenoble Transition Lab, the ecosystems systems are:

  • Residential Housing: particular older buildings with sub-standard energy performance and poor health outcomes.
  • Personal Travel: primarily to work, by individual internal combustion vehicles, incurring high cost and resulting in congestion and air pollution.

The unsustainability of transport, electricity and heating systems is the use of fossil fuels and the air pollution caused. 

Wicked Problems

All of the major employers, universities, institutes, shopping centres, medical facilities and recreation venues have parking on-site, often with parking garages. The tram network serves the historic center, the main destinations and the train station. However, the Eastern valley has a large suburban population without access to trams. Ridership of the trams is good, particularly among students. The cycle infrastructure is largely secondary to car infrastructure. On-street parking and traffic are heavy throughout the city. Air pollution, particularly in winter is a health hazard.  

59% of people in Grenoble Region use personal cars for their daily trips.

82% of trips are less than 10 km

54% of trips are less than 3 km

27% of trips are less than 1 km

76% of trips >1km are made with cars

18% of trips < 1km are made with cars

The Metropole Grenoble government sponsored the Transition Lab with Professor Krumdieck, MGATE and Jeremy Pascal, MGATE. The initiation phase included meetings with Metropole officers, and review of the proposal for a transition grant and reports giving the scenarios the government was considering, which included hydrogen, EV's and carpooling. 

Video of the InTIME Results presented to the stakeholders.  

Video of the Transition Lab workshop on Shift Projects with Stakeholders. 




News on InTIME Transition Labs


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