Centre for Sustainability

Master thesis' topics

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, employing e.g. policy integration frameworks; 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 the science-policy interface. 

Proposed project titles for 2022/2023 cohort: 

  • Comparison of mandates and impacts of national Climate Expert Councils (e.g. Germany, UK, Sweden, Ireland, etc.)
  • Comparison of climate policy planning processes (e.g. Germany, EU, Sweden, Ireland, California, New Zealand)
  • Comparison of Climate Citizen Assembly mandates and impacts (e.g. France, Ireland, Berlin, etc.)
  • Climate policy in Berlin: Governance challenges and options (Buildings, Transport)
  • Barriers and opportunities for enhancing mobilization of the labor force for building sector decarbonization in Germany


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.

Below is a list of ideas for master thesis topics. In some topics, Oliver Ruhnau (OR), Raffaele Sgarlato (RS), Silvana Tiedemann (ST), or Clemens Stiewe (CS) would be interested in co-supervising.

  • GHG reduction quotas in transport (OR): As an implementation of the European Renewable Energy Directive I (RED I), German imposed a greenhouse gas reduction quota on fuel suppliers in the transport sector (THG-Minderungsquote). How is this working? What are the economic incentives? How does the mechanism compare to a classic carbon tax and to transport policies in other countries?
  • Capacity credits in highly renewable electricity systems (OR, CS): With a numerical model, calculate capacity credits of single production and storage technologies. Discuss how the complementarity of renewables and storage can(not) be reflected in capacity credits as well as implications for capacity remuneration mechanisms.
  • Electricity demand response at different time scales (OR, CS): Following up on Hirth, Khanna, and Ruhnau (2022). How does electricity demand responds to price shocks at different time scales (hours, weeks, months, years)? More recent data from the current European energy crisis may be used; discussion whether fuel prices can be used as an (additional) instrument in the instrumental variable regression.
  • Auction mechanisms for supporting green hydrogen (OR, ST): Discuss existing and potential future auctions for supporting renewable hydrogen. What are key design elements? What can be learned from renewable electricity auctions? What is different? (literature review, potentially also evaluating case studies)
  • 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 (OR): 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.
    •  Marginal vs. Average emissions intensity. What is also required for a proper analysis is not the average emissions intensity in a system but rather the marginal emissions intensity. There is decent literature on the difference between the two mostly using models in the US. The results are indeed different. For example, just because a measure, say EV charging at night, reduces electricity consumption during peak hour it may not reduce emissions if generation in peak hours is from hydro. Many of these papers employ econometrics but clearly production cost can also be employed.
    •  Short term vs. long term intensity. Further as systems decarbonize the marginal impact of such measures will change. Clearly when the system is 100% decarbonized demand side measure make no difference from an emissions perspective. But what is interesting is how the marginal emissions evolve during the process. I only found one paper that uses the TIMES model for UK to assess such long term marginal emissions intensities. That paper assumes a decarbonized system with basically nuclear at it's core, which seems unrealistic to me. Assessing how these systems evolve with high VRE could be interesting.
  • Risk trading in low-carbon electricity systems (CS). Renewable energy is capital-intensive and thus vulnerable to price volatility as it inflates the cost of capital. Price volatility might increase in a low-carbon electricity system – instruments for risk trading are thus needed. Discuss which instruments (centralised and decentralised) are available and suited to hedge against the risks of a low-carbon electricity system. (literature review)
  • 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)
  • Dynamic retail tariffs (OR). How prevalent are variable tariffs across Europe and across different consumer segments? What are the policy and technology (smart meters) drivers behind these? (literature review & interviews)
  • Wholesale market participation of electricity demand (OR). 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. (OR) 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 (OR). 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 (OR). 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)
  • Phasing out subsidies for renewables (ST). Subsidies for renewable were not meant to stay forever. Indeed, there are good arguments in the industrial policy literature for  getting rid of subsidies in the best interest of renewables themselves. Yet what is the current state of the debate regarding a potential phase out of subsidies for renewables? What are the arguments for and against prolonged support? Under which assumptions do they hold? To what extent are renewables still receiving subsidies? Which design features of support would lead to an (automatic) phase out and which create lock-in effects? The thesis should summarize the literature on the phase out of renewable energy support schemes, identify the among of support that renewables still get, identify proposals of how to govern a phase out, and – if applicable to the specific research question – take argumentations of industrial policies and/or electricity market development scenarios into account for a critical assessment of the literature.
  • The Texas energy crises in winter 2021 vs. the current European energy crises (ST). In winter 2021, Texas experienced a power crisis caused by a severe winter storm. Europe is currently experiencing an energy crisis caused by soaring prices for gas/limited supply of gas. A comparison between the crises + trying to extract lessons-learnt in both directions.  
  • Capacity markets (ST). To what extent do recently implemented/planned capacity markets reflect recent advances in the literature on capacity markets?  
  • Steering the capacity mix (ST). Which policies drove (recent) investments in newly build capacity, the energy only market and/or additional policies (e.g. RES support schemes, support for zero-carbon technologies, capacity markets, etc.)? Quantifying the share for a certain period in time/a specific geography and/or trying to extract the causal effect. Could be extended to divestment/retirement of capacity


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