Why energy models should integrate social and environmental factors: Assessing user needs, omission impacts, and real-word accuracy in the European Union
Süsser, Diana; Martin, Nick; Stavrakas, Vassilis; Gaschnig, Hannes; Talens-Peiró, Laura; Flamos, Alexandros; Madrid-López, Cristina; Lilliestam, Johan
ACCESS at Energy Research & Social Science Volume (2022) 92, 102775 Energy models are used to inform and support decisions within the transition to climate neutrality. […]
Energy models are used to inform and support decisions within the transition to climate neutrality. In recent years, such models have been criticised for being overly techno-centred and ignoring environmental and social factors of the energy transition. Here, we explore and illustrate the impact of ignoring such factors by comparing model results to model user needs and real-world observations. We firstly identify concrete user needs for better representation of environmental and social factors in energy modelling via interviews, a survey and a workshop. Secondly, we explore and illustrate the effects of omitting non-techno-economic factors in modelling by contrasting policy-targeted scenarios with reality in four EU case study examples. We show that by neglecting environmental and social factors, models risk generating overly optimistic and potentially misleading results, for example by suggesting transition speeds far exceeding any speeds observed, or pathways facing hard-to-overcome resource constraints. As such, modelled energy transition pathways that ignore such factors may be neither desirable nor feasible from an environmental and social perspective, and scenarios may be irrelevant in practice. Finally, we discuss a sample of recent energy modelling innovations and call for continued and increased efforts for improved approaches that better represent environmental and social factors in energy modelling and increase the relevance of energy models for informing policymaking.