Write your master thesis with the Centre for Sustainability!

We welcome new graduate students and encourage them to embark on their master research with the Centre for Sustainability. Prof. Christian Flachsland and Prof. Lion Hirth offer their supervision for theses within climate, energy, and sustainability topics as well as those using quantitative and qualitative methods.

Moreover, we strongly encourage our students to work with practice partners and are willing to support them in connecting with professionals in the field of energy and environment. We have made very good experiences e.g. with collaborations with researchers at the MCC or the HEEN network.

In some topics, our PhD candidates as well as PostDoc researchers will be interested in co-supervising.


Prof. Christian Flachsland is an interdisciplinary social scientist employing mostly qualitative methods but often engaging in quantitative projects, too. He can support you with writing a thesis on institutional analysis and design of climate policy instrument mixes; political economy of climate and energy policy; governance of climate policy; the role of discourse and narratives in climate and energy policy, in particular in the German Energiewende; international climate policy, in particular EU climate and energy policy, the UNFCCC regime, international flexibility mechanisms, and international climate finance; and science-policy interface.

Proposed/Past project titles and examples of research questions:

  • The Political Economy of Coal in Bulgaria: The Captured Energy Transition
  • Unveiling the Political Economy of Coal in Colombia. An analysis of entrenchment mechanisms, strategies, and lock-in
  • The Climate Policy Agenda of Right-Wing Parties - Examining the Alternative for Germany (AfD) and Freiheitliche Partei Österreichs (FPÖ)
  • Germany’s Coal Commission - Complementing Democracy or Bypassing it?
  • Punching Above Their Weight? Small Island States in the Negotiations of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change
  • Obstacles and Response Options to Keeping Temperature Increase Below 2°C: a Survey of Expert Perceptions. (Practice partner MCC)
  • Protecting Indonesia’s forests. Does it matter who manages the land? (Practice partner MCC)
  • Horizontal Distributional Effects of Carbon Pricing Policies in Germany. A Micro-Simulation Approach. (Practice partner MCC)


Prof. Lion Hirth is an economist by training and primarily works quantitatively. He can support you with your thesis in the field of the economics of renewable energy; energy policy – mostly in the European context; electricity system modeling; electricity markets; power grids; open science - including open data, open source software and re-use of scientific methods.

Proposed project titles or research questions:

  • Energy poverty: Understand the demographics, trends of energy poverty in Europe. Has energy poverty/ inequality increased due to climate mitigation actions? Or have targeted policies been able to prevent that?
  • How to speed up electrification of vehicles: EVs are essential for further decarbonization. But what mechanisms can be used to increase switch to EVs apart from just subsidies? What monetary or psychological interventions are being used to encourage consumers to buy EV and other more fuel efficient vehicles? How successful are these interventions? How important a role do EVs play in car sharing? Is that a better way to integrate EVs?
  • Demand response in power models: What are the various demand response options available in power systems? How are these options modeled in power systems? What are the comparative benefits and disadvantages of the different approaches?
  • Estimating emissions intensity of power systems: Emissions intensity of electricity generation is needed for estimating impact of all forms of demand side interventions, EVs, storage.
  • Risk in low-carbon electricity systems. Renewable energy and other low-carbon power generation technologies are investment-intensive. This exposes them to high market risk. (theoretical discussion & analytical model)
  • The value of the solar PV learning curve. Germany has spent about EUR 250bn in solar PV deployment. The main benefit, it is sometimes argued, lies in reduction of future costs due to learning-by-doing, a phenomenon often represented as a learning curve. What is the economic value of this learning and which actors/countries/generations are the one benefitting? (theoretical discussion & quantifications)
  • Recent electricity market liberalization. Case study of two recent cases of electricity market liberalization; review of crucial design choices. (literature review)
  • Smart meter and retail pricing review. Review of the status quo of electronic (“smart”) meter globally; overview of purpose (electricity theft vs. price-elastic demand); review of corresponding retail pricing (time-of-use pricing, dynamic pricing, invariant prices, etc.). (literature review)
  • Variable tariffs. How prevalent are variable tariffs across Europe and across different consumer segments? What are the policy and technology (smart meters) drives behind these? (literature review & interviews)
  • Impact of time varying prices on energy consumption and carbon emissions. Several studies find impact of time varying prices but the estimates vary. Using a dataset of already collected 70 odd studies, try and understand the average expected impact of such schemes and why do they vary in their impact? Do they always lead to reduction in carbon emissions or can they actually increase them? How successful are they in shifting load to off-peak hours? This thesis would require understanding and using statistical techniques similar to regressions.
  • Industrial demand response today. Which industrial consumers are – directly or indirectly – exposed to fluctuations in wholesale electricity prices? (How) do these consumers respond to short-term (hourly/daily) price fluctuations? A German case study, possibly also another country (literature review & interviews)
  • Wholesale market participation of electricity demand. How can (flexible) electricity demand participate in European wholesale electricity markets? What are the country differences? What are the pros and cons of the different currently implemented options? How should regulation be developed further. Possible case study could be hydrogen electrolyzers. (literature review & interviews)
  • The impact of batteries on balancing. Review of battery expansion in Germany plus 1-2 further European countries. Empirical analysis of balancing reserve prices in DE. Discussion of possible effects of reserve prices with a focus on the impact of the expansion of batteries on capacity prices. (literature review + data analysis).
  • Economic value of subsidized loans for renewable energy. Estimate the (global) economic value of below-interest rate loans issues to renewable energy project developers by state-owned banks such as EIB, EBRD, KfW and World Bank.
  • Network tariff design. A theoretical discussion of efficient / sensible / feasible design of (distribution) network charges, possibly complemented with some data-based assessment. Focus should be the multiple objectives (energy conservation, climate policy, distribution and fairness, risk), the various options (capacity vs. volumetric charges, time-of-use and critical peak pricing).
  • Can storage be a substitute for transmission investment? How does the location of storage effect the need for transmission infrastructure? How do the market design and other regulatory incentives affect this outcome? (Literature review and time series analysis)
  • Locational instruments for electricity consumption. Literature review on regulatory instruments that incentivize consumers of electricity to move to locations in which generation is cheapest. Which instruments are there and how effective are they?
  • The effect of flexibility options on the revenues of generators. Modelling exercise: what is the effect of different flexibility options such as storage or transmission infrastructure on the market value of different generation technologies? How do they affect power prices and the need for curtailment?
  • Future dispatchable capacity mix. What is the role of different dispatchable (almost) carbon-free technologies (nuclear, hydrogen, carbon capture and storage) in future electricity systems with (more or less) variable renewable energy sources? An adaptation of the screening curve model to future technologies, including a sensitivity analysis on uncertain input parameters (literature review & screening curve model)
  • Balancing market in the Netherlands. How do balancing responsible parties (BRPs) respond to changes in the imbalance price? Applying the instrumental variable approach presented in Eicke, Ruhnau and Hirth (2021) on the Dutch power market. How much larger is the price responsiveness in this market compared to Germany? Decent knowledge of Stats II and some skills in Data management are very helpful here.
  • Predicting network congestion. In electricity systems, it is often relevant to predict the occurrence of line overload (grid congestion) a few hours or days before they occur. In this work, econometric methods are used to predict congestion based on variables such as wind and solar generation, imports and exports of electricity, load levels, among other regressors. Prediction could be made at the national level (redispatch volumes), individual lines, or redispatch of individual power plants. (econometrics)
  • Redispatch and curtailment in Germany. Analyse redispatch and curtailment data in Germany to learn more when and why the feed in of renewable energy sources is reduced. In which hours does redispatch occur? How significant is the welfare loss?
  • Market value of wind and solar energy. An update of Hirth (2013) based on new and expanded data, new econometrics, more geographies. (econometrics)
  • Incentive-based instruments for electricity generation I. Why has the EU, unlike the U.S., opted for command control instruments for pollutants, rather than incentive-based instruments such as an ETS or a tax? (literature review)
  • Incentive-based instruments for electricity generation II. Which power generation externalities are well-suited for incentive-based regulation, which are not? (literature review)

For more information on the master's thesis processes, please also consult the Curricular Affairs Team.


  • Christian Flachsland , Professor of Sustainability | Director, Centre for Sustainability
  • Lion Hirth , Assistant Professor of Governance of Digitalisation and Energy Policy
  • Monique Drees , Associate Curricular Affairs