The transition to a low-carbon energy system will involve a major redesign of the energy system, with a focus on renewable sources. Existing energy system planning models are incapable of guiding this transition effectively as they do not capture enough of the technological, geographic, societal and political details that are important when designing an energy system around renewable sources. And although models are becoming increasingly sophisticated, it is not certain that they are becoming better at answering the questions posed by users or providing the required results. Improving models and adapting them to the needs of their users is the aim of the SENTINEL project.
Energy models are an increasingly important tool for exploring and understanding potential energy futures, and their use in policy advice is increasing accordingly. Models are very powerful tools for techno-economic analysis, but they are still largely blind to social and political factors. Challenges around the public acceptance of energy infrastructure, for example, are not well reflected in existing model - and yet we know empirically that public opposition is a serious barrier for the deployment of new renewable energy installations across Europe, sometimes even halting the renewables expansion entirely. Further, public perceptions shape energy policies, and hence also shape the long-term trajectory of the energy transition. It is important, then, for Europe to develop a new framework for modelling energy systems that is equal to the challenge of redesigning them around non-fossil sources and which takes non-technical issues into account. Simply expanding existing energy models to capture these details would make them even more complex and further reduce their transparency.
The Sustainable Energy Transitions Laboratory (SENTINEL) will develop, test and make freely available a modelling framework with the capacity to support stakeholders as they make critical decisions. The SENTINEL framework is fundamentally different from those currently in use: it places user needs - identified through extensive stakeholder collaboration - at the centre of model development. In crucial ways, it is built specifically with renewable energy systems in mind and considers their particular temporal, geographic, and contextual issues.
Unlike many of the models that are currently being used, SENTINEL will be a platform on which a suite of highly specialised models can be linked together according to user needs. All of the models and data will be accessible via an online platform. The Energy Transition Dynamics Group co-leads the transdisciplinary work to identify the needs of different user groups and works with model users to co-create the modifications needed to make "better" models. In addition, the IASS team will develop a module that can be used to include social and political aspects directly in SENTINEL platform models.
This project has received funding from the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 837089.