Chameleon: Adaptation to climate change in the utility sector – analysis and development of options for business and political action

Background and Goals

The research group Chameleon is examining the political frameworks that strongly influence adaptation strategies in public utility companies. How must political and operational actions to be coordinated so that adaptation strategies can be optimally developed and implemented?

Chameleon examines how energy and transport sector companies adapt to climate change. Key questions are: What factors promote or hinder adaptation measures within a company?

Chameleon makes an important contribution to adaptation theory by systematically generalizing the results. This gives companies, politicians and administrators the tools to successfully develop and implement.


Integrated analysis of adaptation barriers and promoters of adaptation for selected public utility companies (organisational, regulatory and climatological), which are intensively involved in the project as practical partners. Compatibility analysis on operational and political adaptations taking into account the relevant possible actions and restrictions. Generalisation of typical adaptation barriers and promoters, as well as operational and political instruments for development, assessment and implementation of adaptation measures in the form of a compendium for practical players.

Content time


Research area/region

  • Germany
Region of implementation (all German federal states)
  • Baden-Württemberg
  • Bavaria
  • Berlin
  • Brandenburg
  • Bremen
  • Hamburg
  • Hesse
  • Mecklenburg Western Pomerania
  • Lower Saxony
  • Northrhine-Westphalia
  • Rhineland Palatinate
  • Saarland
  • Saxony
  • Saxony-Anhalt
  • Schleswig-Holstein
  • Thuringia

Steps in the process of adaptation to climate change

Step 1: Understand and describe climate change

Approach and results 

The project uses data from the CCLM and STAR climate models.

Parameter (climate signals)
  • Heat waves
  • Altered rainfall patterns
  • Higher average temperatures
  • Extreme precipitation (incl. hail, snow)
  • Storm
Further Parameters 

other parameters can be considered if necessary

Time horizon
  • medium term = to 2050
  • long term = to 2100 and beyond

Step 2a: Identify and assess risks - climate effects and impact

Approach and results 

The Chameleon project essentially considers impacts that may endanger the infrastructure and the operation of the transport and energy sectors. Here, the increase in extreme weather events such as storms, heavy rain and heat waves can be mentioned. These may either directly or indirectly, such as through floods, cause severe damage to the capital-intensive infrastructure of the transport and energy sectors. During heat waves, the cooling water for power plants can become scare. In addition, the long-term rise in average temperature and the increasing variability of weather conditions are considered as consequences of climate change, which companies in the two sectors should consider as future risks for their operations.

Step 2b: Identify and assess risks - Vulnerability, risks and chances

Approach and results 

The vulnerability of the energy and transport sectors will be discussed together with the industry partners of the project. In addition, a cross-industry survey asked companies about their experiences with the effects of extreme weather events (e.g. the summer heatwave of 2003, or storm events such as 'Kyrill') on their operations, as well as their assessment of future concerns. The main subject of the survey was the level of adaptation in the two sectors. In case studies, the sensitivity and adaptive capacity of the companies will be investigated through an analysis of both in-house and external supporting and hindering factors for adaptation. In addition, the case studies serve to identify needs for action and opportunities in the companies.

Step 3: Develop and compare measures

Measures and/or strategies 

Chameleon is studying and developing state and commercial adaptation measures for companies that provide public supply services in the energy and transport sector. The research group is also investigating how commercial and state action can be optimally coordinated. Generalisable adaptation strategies and instruments for companies and policy will be published in a compendium.

In addition, political frameworks are considered, such as incentive and regulatory systems that are relevant to adjustment in the sector. Industry dialogues for exchange between politics, business and science were used to identify needs and possibilities for cooperation and assistance in the development of adaptation measures.

Time horizon
  • 2036–2065
More time information and explanations 

The time horizon of the considered adaptation measures is based on the planning and maintenance cycles of the energy and transport sectors. Both sectors are characterized by infrastructure with long lifespans. Plants in the energy sector are designed with operating periods of 40-50 years, and some transport infrastructure can have a lifespan of up to 80 years. Accordingly, possible adaptation measures (e.g. for new construction or the protection of existing infrastructure) are considered for those periods.

Conflicts / synergies / sustainability 

The project addresses potential for conflict between climate adaptation measures and sustainable development/environmental protection using the example of the availability of cooling water in the energy sector. A potential conflict between security of supply and water pollution is studied.

Step 4: Plan and implement measures

Costs of the measures 

The project also analyses the costs resulting from climate impacts and adaptation measures.


Funding / Financing 


Project management 

Universität Oldenburg


Institute for ecological Economy Research, Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK), Indiana University Bloomington, Workshop in Political Theory and Policy Analysis;

Praxispartner: Deutsche Bahn AG, Fraport AG, RWE AG, HSE AG, Association of German Transport Companies (VDV), German Association of Energy and Water Industries (BDEW), German Environment Agency/⁠KomPass⁠ – The Competence Centre on Climate Impacts and Adaptation;


Institute for Ecological Economy Research (IOEW)
Potsdamerstraße 105
D-10785 Berlin

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Fields of action:
 energy sector  transport, transport infrastructure