The possibilities are endless : making sense of local system modelling

Hawker, Graeme and Flower, Jack and Bell, Keith (2019) The possibilities are endless : making sense of local system modelling. In: UKERC Annual Conference 2019, 2019-04-24 - 2019-04-25, St Anne's College.

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    Abstract

    Future visions of local energy systems have been increasingly supported by detailed and sophisticated modelling work, incorporating both spatial and temporal dimensions to a greater and greater degree. This has enabled the creation of ever more complex (and complicated) techno-economic simulation models based on a vast range of scenarios considering technologies, networks and energy consumer behaviour. However, such a variety and wealth of models, often based on a great breadth of (often irreconcilable) assumptions, often leads to a form of ‘analysis paralysis’: too many options and possibilities are presented, often without the underlying modelling having considered the actual decision-making processes towards which it may be expected to contribute. This is particularly the case where Whole Systems modelling is concerned, where the form of optimisation in use may presume the existence of a ‘System Architect’ capable of intervening at any level of the system, as opposed to the actual policy mechanisms which may exist in reality. This presentation considers the gap between the wealth of system modelling data being made available by technical modellers and the near-term development of policy. With a particular focus on the domestic heat sector (based on work conducted within UKERC Phase 3 ), we discuss the development of ‘least regret’ options in an energy context with extremely high technological and economic uncertainties, as well as the determination of top-down carbon abatement values which may feed directly into a policy pipeline. The need for clear energy pathway narratives is discussed, and illustrated with examples from the Great Britain energy system, considering the multiple challenges that apply in particular to decentralised systems. With respect to domestic heating, we propose a framework for the development of local heat strategy, based on techno-economic analysis but distilling the results into clear findings, which moves beyond RD&D funded projects through to the ‘first million’ homes with low carbon heating , incorporating the needs and system actions that may be employed in the near term by home owners, network operators, local authorities and policymakers. This is used as a basis to highlight future modelling work which will be required to assist the development of policy as technical and economic uncertainties around the sector are reduced.