Decision support tools for environmental sustainability need to contend with the issue that it is individuals and the organizations they are part of that make decisions towards sustainability; this always entails trade-offs between social, economic, political, and environmental concerns. Furthermore, different individuals and organizations disagree on the importance of these different factors. Due to the urgency of the energy transition to preserve a livable global climate, realistic transition scenarios that integrate consideration of these trade-offs are needed. However, current energy-environmental modelling methods are unable to do this with sufficient speed and quality. Our long-term vision is to address this by developing novel computational approaches that include the preferences of real-world stakeholders directly in the computer models providing decision support. To do so, we combine energy and environmental scientific software development with the development and trialing of a web application that makes a “human-computer loop” possible.
The urgency to cut energy-related greenhouse gas emissions is recognised by EU policy. Efforts to do so, however, are hindered by the limitations of software used to generate and assess national energy transition scenarios. These tools generally overlook social issues and environmental sustainability in favour of a techno-economic worldview, where an optimal solution is determined by cost minimisation. Yet, when it comes to the practical on-the-ground implementation of such scenarios, real-world concerns come to the forefront. Such concerns are both environmental (e.g. land and resource use) and social (e.g. what trade-offs are important to local stakeholders). No workable solutions to integrate both of these into techno-economic energy system modelling software exist. We address this by developing and testing a novel digital workflow that automatically integrates humans into scenario design while accurately modelling the relevant technical, economic and environmental constraints. With this project, we plant the seeds for locally desirable, environmentally friendly and implementable energy transition scenarios.
For this automated human-computer loop, we will (1) develop an automated approach to generate a wide range of alternative energy system scenarios that go beyond an economically optimal solution; (2) integrate the computation of social and environmental impacts into these alternatives; and (3) build a web-based interface with experts and members of the public, in which they can interactively visualise scenarios and feed their preferences into the generation of refined alternatives in a human-computer co-creation loop. We hypothesise that this will permit the generation of clean energy scenarios that embrace social and environmental sustainability, therefore engendering broader public support. Doing so involves methodological development, software development and implementation, and experimentation with a pilot study in Portugal. This work is done in a focused consortium of four partners: ETHZ is a leading centre of high-resolution energy system modelling; ICTA-UAB is a leading centre in the development of integrated sustainability assessment methods; TLU provides expertise in participatory design of trustworthy interactive systems; and FC.ID contributes its unique expertise combining modelling with participatory action research.