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Workshop PROSPER 2012

HOW CAN WE BUILD RELEVANT AND ACCEPTABLE ENERGY SCENARIOS? The key to shaping an energy future that, with everyone's approval, must be different to the past, lies with the foresight methods used. The use of quantitative forecasting, with models fitted to the past, raises several issues relating to the validity of any underpinning hypotheses. The qualitative exploration of rapidly breaking trajectories also raises several questions relating to the large-scale investments and life spans of energy facilities. How can the two, often opposing approaches be reconciled to create more relevant and acceptable scenarios?

 

Energy issues are at the core of any discussion on the future of society. Growing tensions surrounding fossil fuels, combined with the impact on climate caused by their use, have led to the need for an “energy transition” at all levels. Everyone feels involved and, in open debates, everyone has their own scenario that demonstrates the validity of their point of view. Yet how solid are the forecasting arguments being put forward? How can the level of confusion among decision-makers be reduced in the face of contradictory forecasts?

The PROSPER Workshop, held on 5 July 2012, focused on the actual performance of energy forward looking activities, including their credibility and ability to correctly inform discussions and public decisions. More concretely, the aim was to use a number of specific examples to evaluate the ability of forward looking projects to meet their targets and to formulate – where necessary – recommendations aimed at improving their capabilities.

There is a wide variety of forecasting/foresight work in the field of energy, relating to availability of natural resources, energy supply and demand, technological developments for energy, public policies and choices of energy mix, operation of regional energy systems, etc. It is impossible to address all of these aspects, but there are a certain number of common criteria that they must all meet to be useful.

First of all, it is expected that forward looking activities will help clarify the choices that need to be made, rather than making the choice instead of the decision-makers. The main aim of a foresight exercise is to support decision makers, by providing them with a clear view of hypotheses, limits and inferred starting scope, reasoning and/or tools that lead to conclusions. As the futures described cannot be demonstrated, it is traceability (and therefore refutability of reasoning) that is the key to credible, and therefore acceptable, results. Evaluating the ability of any processes implemented, and tools used, to generate confidence in the energy forecasts produced was one of the topics under discussion at this PROSPER Workshop.

The clarity provided to decision makers can be categorised in two different registers. The first is qualitative: the question is to explore the variety of possible futures, to raise awareness of a range of possibilities that is often far wider than expected by current thinking. It includes awareness of breaks or changes in established paradigms. The ability of current foresight exercises to move away from models of current thought, to take into account possible changes and to suggest other approaches to energy issues was also a topic of discussion at the PROSPER Workshop.

The second register for clarity through forward looking activities is quantitative: this aims to evaluate whether a potential trajectory is actually possible, e.g. whether the availability of a resource is consistent with the use that would be made of it. Such quantitative forecasting is based on forecasting models, fitted to data collected on the past. In terms of energy forecasting, it is therefore necessary to understand whether these models are able to deliver credible results: are they suited to the envisaged use? Does this use remain within their range of validity? What is the level of uncertainty in the results? These questions are also at the heart of concerns surrounding the credibility of forecasting results and were another topic of discussion during the PROSPER Workshop.

For the PROSPER Network, these various aspects of critical analysis must also result in proposals for research action (what work is needed to improve performance of forward looking activities?) and practices (how can we improve involvement and appropriation by stakeholders?).

 

Presentations are available in French section.