Increasing the reliability of energy system scenarios with integrated modelling: A review

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About the project

This Knowledge Synthesis report assesses current combined and nexus modelling techniques to identify best practices for creating models that effectively support energy policy. In order to decarbonize our energy system, we need efficient policy that considers the intrinsic linkages with systems such as water, land, health, the economy and ecosystem services. Systems models are an important tool to inform policy decisions and energy planning. These models generally fall into one of three modelling paradigms: energy economy, capacity expansion or power sector planning. Recent work seeks to combine these paradigms into an integrated framework to leverage the benefits of different model types, but this increases model complexity and risks creating more black-box models that are not well understood or trusted by users or policy-makers. We conducted a literature review on current integrated modelling techniques and existing nexus models, and held expert elicitation focus groups to uncover the benefits and challenges of combined modelling. Finally, we encapsulated these findings and best practices into a modelling evaluation framework that can be applied to any nexus model.

Key findings

  • Model transparency and trustworthiness is preferable to building more complex, resource-intensive (in time and expense) and ultimately black-box models. The model should have a clear purpose and intended use to ensure that it is complex enough to fit this purpose and not more so. This also helps one to recognize what a model cannot do, as models only produce abstract representations of real-world systems as defined in the model and cannot reveal relationships not specifically encoded.
  • Developing open-source models is encouraged, as they foster wider scrutiny (and therefore trustworthiness) and inter-team collaboration from those in different fields with varied backgrounds. With open-source models, we ensure insights are shared, and models that are already sufficiently complex are also trustworthy and without proponent bias.
  • As models are becoming more complex, taking up standards used in software engineering practice can also ensure trustworthiness in a model, such as standardization and documentation of software design. This further ensures that individuals and teams other than the model developers can understand and use the model effectively.

Policy implications

  • Just as evaluating a climate policy using a model that does not incorporate system interactions such as water, land and energy can lead to inefficient policy implementation and resource use, using a combined or nexus modelling framework that is not well understood or trustworthy increases the chance that there are errors or misinterpretations in the model results.
  • Stakeholders, such as policy-makers, should be included and involved in the modelling process from the beginning to ensure better understanding of the purpose and abilities of a model, as well as its limitations.
  • A framework has been developed that can be used to evaluate a proposed nexus model. This framework allows assessment of a model to determine if it is open source; uses open data that is well documented and maintained; has appropriate spatial and temporal resolutions, and stakeholder involvement; and if the code uses standardized processes, is well documented and addresses relevant nexus interactions. All of these components help modellers move toward the best practices outlined in this report.

Further information

Read the full report

Contact the researchers

Taco Niet, Assistant Professor of Professional Practice, School of Sustainable Energy Engineering, Simon Fraser University;

The views expressed in this evidence brief are those of the authors and not those of SSHRC, NSERC, CIHR and the Government of Canada

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