The role of science, models and communication in energy transitions

In the autumn of 2019, the ENSYSTRA project joined up for a workshop hosted by Chalmers University of Technology in Gothenburg, Sweden. The main theme of this workshop was Modelling Energy Systems, focussing specifically on the application of models in science and the use of model results for policy and industrial decision making. Key questions: What can we actually learn from different types of models and what are potential strengths and weaknesses of different approaches? And what is a researcher’s role in the interaction with society and stakeholders?

The hosts from Chalmers University developed an interesting and intense programme with lectures, workshops and some practical activities. In a series of lectures, invited professors and professors from Chalmers University presented different aspects of models and modelling, and the interaction of models with broader society.  First up was a discussion on how different views on science itself may lead to different roles that scientists can take when developing models. These roles vary from being a ‘Pure Scientist’ to the being the ‘Honest Broker’, potentially leading to different approaches on making models. The overall warning: be aware of the abuse of science, cherry picking, overstatement of results and so on.

Professor Azar addressed nine questions in relation to Integrated Assessment Modelling, discussing issues such as how to interpret results, limitations of the model, the sensitivity of results, etc. Further down the programme, high level examples illustrated how science-policy interaction works in practice and how models (can) inform policy: professor Sonia Yeh presented the California Climate Policy Modelling, while professor Sabine Fuss gave a “behind the scenes” introduction of how scientific assessment in the context of the IPCC works.

In addition to these and other inspiring contributions of scientists, two panel discussions were organised with invited speakers from media, industry and policy. Together with the audience, these panellists discussed how energy models and modelling relates to their work as journalist, politician or industry representatives. This gave some good practical insights in how the interaction between scientists and “the outside world” actually works, and – importantly – how this interaction can be improved.

In the final days of the workshop, some skill training and networking activities were organized, including a workshop on Policy Briefs and the presentations of the ESR’s individual research projects. The week traditionally ended with a joint dinner in one of Göthenburg’s fine restaurants.

Upcoming ENSYSTRA projects
In the Spring of 2020, the ENSYSTRA ESRs will meet again in Stavanger for the Summer School hosted by Stavanger University. Focus of this upcoming Summer School is on Future Sustainable Energy Systems.