Energy modelling & critical thinking

  • genre: break‑out‑group
  • title: Energy modelling and critical thinking
  • presenter: @sacha.hodencq @HugoLeB
  • background: see below

As Dianna Süsser organised in Berlin (“E.4. How to model social aspects”), we would like to organise an open discussion on the following subject : “Energy modelling and critical thinking”. We are currently writing a book chapter (“Are systemic models necessary for thinking about and dealing with crises?”), and mediating a working group in France on this matter, and we would be very keen to discuss this topic with the openmod community.

The idea would be to introduce the subject with an epistemological approach of modelling, and to further discuss the topic with interested researchers. The following abstract presents the work that is being carried out.

  • The current socio-environmental crisis is analyzed though integrated assessment models (IAM) which rely on system dynamics theory developed in the early 1970s by Jay Forrester. These models aim at understanding the dynamics of human and non-human systems and provide elements for decision-making. However, given the lack of improvement in socio-environmental conditions observed for the past decades, we question the limits of systemic models and their effective role in decision-making processes. We then propose an epistemological reflection on the role of the modeler and the user in the design of models, before studying the possibility of good practices for the emergence of new modeling. Finally, we adopt a critical reflexive approach to the modeling activity in a context of more frequent and larger crises. We question the objectives of modeling in a world of crises and analyze the relevance of new systemic approaches.

Following a quick presentation of this work, we would like to discuss the aims of modelling within the openmod community, with questions such as:

  • What is the aim of (open) energy modelling in your opinion (how is it useful) ?
  • What is the relationship between modelling and society ?
  • How do you approach the usefulness in your work ?
  • What should be the role of the modellers in Society ? Could other approaches be more relevant than modelling to reach such usefulness ?

Hoping it will spark interest,

Hugo & Sacha


I would like to inject an idea that has been slowly dawning on me over the last months. The notion of commons‑based peer production for public policy analysis (as extracted from here):

“One novel idea is the application of commons‑based peer production to public policy development, in part driven by the simple expedient that public agencies alone do not have the capacity to search the potential scenario space — and nor the creativity for that matter (with neither aspect intended as a criticism of government analysts).”

This will require a massive effort — in particular to assemble the structured data needed. And the European Commission is heading in exactly the wrong direction with its single digital market for information agenda. We urgently need a carve out from the Commission for information of public interest with as much as possible placed under CC‑BY‑4.0 licensing (or something inbound compatible). Other jurisdictions are arguably in a better state in this context due to different legal and administrative traditions.

More on the commodification of public interest information within Europe here. R

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I think modeling is very useful for evaluating the effectiveness of a policy initiative in a more objective manner. Considering many conflicting interests, measuring program effectiveness through asking stakeholders will likely not produce an accurate picture. For instance, modeling the distribution impact of fuel subsidy can inform whether the lower income households are actually benefiting from the program.
Models might also improve the policymaking process by shifting from sensational anecdotes to discussing societal values - how much is the acceptable amount of subsidy leakage if the program reaches its target groups.

Open-source models can appear as credible to the public because they are transparent. These models are also more accessible if a department is budget or procurement constrained. Unfortunately, I didn’t see much adoption of quantitative approaches to policymaking in my country (except financial modeling by energy companies :face_with_symbols_over_mouth:).

This recent publication may well fit with this discussion too:

  • Göke, Leonard, Jens Weibezahn, and Christian von Hirschhausen (2023). “A collective blueprint, not a crystal ball: how expectations and participation shape long-term energy scenarios”. Energy Research and Social Science. 97: 102957. ISSN 2214-6296. doi:10.1016/j.erss.2023.102957.

A release announcement on the openmod mailing list:


sounds really interesting, I would like to participate, so would be great if the break-out group “Modelling Sufficiency Scenarios” does not take place at the same time :slight_smile:


… and the other way round, I would really like to participate in the break out group about sufficiency modelling ! :slight_smile:

Here is a pad to write down the collaborative minutes for the session:

Here is the book @SaulehS mentioned in his keynote on the Friday (other formats are available):

  • Thompson, Erica (24 November 2022). Escape from model land: how mathematical models can lead us astray and what we can do about it. London, United Kingdom: Basic Books. ISBN 978‑1529364873. Hardcover. Circa € 19.00.


Update: my book review now here: