Academic journal article Emergence: Complexity and Organization

Exploring Possible Energy Futures for the Uk: Evolving Power Generation

Academic journal article Emergence: Complexity and Organization

Exploring Possible Energy Futures for the Uk: Evolving Power Generation

Article excerpt

In response to the predictions of climate change models the EU has imposed very strong reductions in carbon emissions for the member nations. As a result the UK is signed up to reduce carbon emissions to 20% of their 1990 value by 2050. This will require a complete change in power generation over the next 40 years. But the system involved is clearly immensely complex, with multiple agents, levels of description, new technologies and new policies and actions. As part of the CASCADE research programme we propose to split the problem into two parts: a long term overarching model about the evolution of the generating capacity available, and a short term, detailed model of the wholesale and retail energy markets that links supply and demand. We describe the first of these, a relatively simple spatial, dynamic model that represents possible spatial patterns of electrical generation capacity from 2010 until 2050 aimed at tripling production and reducing CO2 emissions by 80%. Investment will be made into new low carbon generating capacity: wind farms, nuclear plants, bio-fuels, waste conversion and pyrolysis, tidal and wave marine plants and possibly clean coal or gas plants where the CO2 is sequestered. It allows the exploration of possible pathways to 2050, in which different choices and spatial patterns of investment are run. It provides an annual input scenario for a much more detailed, short time scale, agent based model of the UK wholesale and retail energy markets (Rylatt et al., 2013). Of course, over time the two models will provide feedback that will change the models and their parameters, as new technologies, costs and opportunities emerge.

INTRODUCTION

Today, our own ecological, social and economic systems are seen by many to be at a crisis point. Energy is one of the most fundamental factors of all systems, and now after several hundred years of industrial and technological growth based on the unrestrained use of fossil fuels and easily available materials to multiply our own capacities for work many hundreds of times, this 'economic growth' system has possibly reached a 'tipping point'. Our models of climate change, now very sophisticated, suggest that continuing on a 'business as usual' path would quite possibly tip the planet into a major reconfiguration of its climatic, ecological and socioeconomic structure with catastrophic effects on the human population. Forty years ago the 'Limits to Growth' model was published (Meadows et ai, 1972). It was much criticized as being very simple and that running it for 200 years into the future was not 'scientific' as so much would change during this time. The model coupled the growth in populations, economic activities and resource use of the planet and showed that problems would arise around 2050. Among other books and articles this served to prompt the development of more, detailed models of various aspects of this, and in particular the links of climate to carbon emissions. Today there is very solid agreement that we have to reduce our carbon emissions and must change to low carbon energy sources if we are to avoid catastrophic climate change. Also, despite the relative simplicity of the Limits to Growth, is seems that they got it fairly right as we are still following their 'business as usual' trajectory 40 years later. Despite all the discussions and improved data and models we have not yet really responded to this real threat. Perhaps the power of the existing business and commercial establishments has succeeded in avoiding any real change or response at least until now.

It is now accepted very broadly that there is a real threat and even some notable Republicans in the USA have recently backed President Obama because of his greater concern with this issue. Mayor Bloomberg of New York has said following Hurricane Sandy, "Our climate is changing and while the increase in extreme weather we have experienced in New York City and around the world may or may not be the result of it, the risk that it might be-given this week's devastation-should compel all elected leaders to take immediate action. …

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