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Where does tomorrow’s energy come from? Researchers explore new pathways

11/09/2011 - In just a few weeks´ time the European Union will present its scenarios for tomorrow’s energy, the “Energy Roadmap 2050” – and already there is some excitement about the question of price increases. Behind such estimates, however, there are scientific models: computer simulations of real world processes. They are the tools to assess costs and benefits of a transformation of our energy system in line with climate change mitigation. This week, the most relevant developers of such models assembled under the umbrella of the Stanford Energy Modeling Forum (EMF), met for the first time at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK). The new analyses they are preparing are about data and formula – but in the end also about euros and cents for industry and households.
 Where does tomorrow’s energy come from? Researchers explore new pathways

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“Together, we are going to have a real close look at the different technologies, from wind power to nuclear power,” says Elmar Kriegler of PIK. “We are examining their relevance for the world’s energy system – this study could be a huge step forward.” Kriegler is a member of the steering committee of the new EMF study and a lead author of the next assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, IPCC. Important parts of this report will be based on these global scenarios of future greenhouse-gas emissions reduction.

“Policy-makers need a robust basis for decision-taking – so the different options have to be clearly labeled for them. When we run the different scenarios, these options get spelled out,” says Kriegler. “That’s what the EMF model comparison is aiming to do.” Up to now, the EMF focused on the analysis of energy and climate change mitigation scenarios for the US and the global level. Now, with support from PIK, the assessment of scenarios for Europe have become part of the program for the first time – stirring a comprehensive scientific debate that has been lacking up till now.

Potsdam researcher coordinates European comparison

The meeting was therefore a kick-off for a systematic comparison of energy models for Europe in which more than a dozen teams of scientists will project the future of energy supply. Taking part in this joint effort are the developers of the model that the EU-scenarios are based upon. Under the umbrella of the EMF, the comparison will be coordinated by Brigitte Knopf of PIK. “We will analyse the technical feasibility, the costs, but also the uncertainties of the implementation of climate protection targets,” says Knopf. “The idea is to identify several viable pathways. Model intercomparisons are important for understanding how robustly these pathways will achieve the targets - and which of them will be a hard road.”

A recent PIK study on the nuclear phase-out in Germany provided an important contribution to the debate on electricity costs. Now Europe, in addition to Germany, will be the focus of a new working group at PIK. The group was founded in parallel to the international meeting of model developers – up to now, the Potsdam-based researchers primarily studied global energy scenarios. “Europe is tremendously important for global mitigation of climate change,” says PIK’s chief economist Ottmar Edenhofer. “If we cannot achieve real progress in Europe, efforts for mitigation elsewhere will come under pressure.” As co-chair of the IPCC’s working group for climate change mitigation, he stressed how relevant the model intercomparison is for the next assessment report. “Only on the basis of scientific work like this is it possible to reasonably tackle the climate problem.”

A forum of scientists, but also oil corporations like Exxon

The Stanford Energy Modeling Forum seeks to improve understanding on the energy/environment problem by harnessing the collective capabilities of participating experts. It does so by explaining the strengths, limitations and caveats of alternative analytical approaches, and by identifying high priority directions for future research. Amongst the members there are scientific institutions like the Massachusetts Institute of Technology or the British Oxford University, organisations like the Electric Power Research Institute, and corporations like the oil company Exxon or Électricité de France.

Related Links

- to the new PIK working group
- to the Stanford Energy Modeling Forum

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