What is decarbonization?
Decarbonization is a strategy to reduce carbon emissions and stabilize planet’s climate. It involves a massive technological transition from traditional fossil-fuels-burning technologies to alternative energy sources. Deep Decarbonization Pathways Project by UNSDSN [http://deepdecarbonization.org/] formulated three pillars of decarbonization: energy efficiency, carbon-free electricity, and electrification. Until proven with detailed technological models on a large scale, the strategy will remain an idea, a belief that economic activity can be decarbonized, i.e., the world economy can function without (or with a much lower level of) carbon dioxide emissions and greenhouse gases emissions in general.
Earth's climate is a public good; climate change affects every life on the planet and is considered as a significant existential threat. The information on available options to decarbonize economy with attached costs and co-benefits should be open, invariant to the interests of any businesses. The openness of every step of the decarbonization analysis, transparency of methodology, and assumptions is the only way to make the discussion meaningful, unbiased, achieve fair consensus. All parameters and assumptions which affect conclusions should be transparent and open for discussions. Any proprietary, non-sharable models and data are not helpful for understanding and validation of how the analysis arrives at certain conclusions, and therefore should be avoided.
Even the necessity for the transition to a carbon-free economy is broadly acknowledged, there is no solid vision on feasibility, reliability, and economic rationale of cutting carbon emissions to zero and below. How everyday life without emissions may look like, should be first sketched and tested with models for alternative technological pathways. The mainstream tools in decarbonization analysis – Reference Energy System models (RES, also known as “Capacity expansion models”, “Bottom-up energy models”) are designed to evaluate alternative technological options and suggest the cost-efficient structure of energy system for every particular input to the model – available resources, technologies, costs, and constraints. Energy modeling is currently experiencing an open-source boom. OpenMod initiative has a list of more than 50 open energy models [https://wiki.openmod-initiative.org/wiki/Open_Models]. With growing demand from society for more profound, better analyses of “conventional” and “alternative” pathways, models are shifting from traditionally expensive, proprietary, “black-box” consulting tools to freely available, affordable, and transparent aids for research. Moreover, the higher technical and economic potential for penetration of renewable energy raises the bar of the research, pushes forward the development of the models, highlights the necessity of the openness and the exchange of the experience, to maintain transparency and credibility of the tools.
Decarbonization is an analysis of long-run pathways. Data for 2050 is not available anyway, the technologies, demand for energy, the electric power load curve, etc. are not even close to being known, and the importance of the base-year data for this type of analysis is greatly overestimated. Most of the energy production, transformation, and consumption capacities which are in the service today, will be phased out in 20-30 years and replaced by similar or completely different technology. With energy models and information regarding technologies, currently available and expected in the future, the renewable energy potential, we are already equipped to brainstorm opportunities for the transition to the low carbon future.
Alternative technological options create investment choices that lead to alternative development pathways, i.e. alternative futures. A scenario in energy systems modeling is normally a state of the energy system in some distant years from now, which relies on a particular set of energy technologies, energy sources, and delivers a certain (targeted) level of energy services. The variety of technological options multiply the number of potential pathways of development. Scenarios are building blocks of knowledge in “what if?” type of analysis. Simulation and comparison of alternative scenarios demystify and rationalize available options, builds awareness and confidence for decision making. Long-run is imposed by the planning horizon in energy systems. Once an investment made, the capacity will stay in place for decades, and it might be costly to revert it. Consistently changing technological landscape, an appearance of new technologies (such as shale gas or power-to-X), plummeting costs of renewables and batteries, new and stronger policies, and changes in consumer preferences challenge the existing status quo. The new opportunities should be continuously evaluated to make smarter investment decisions.
How it works?
Making energy models and data open is great achievement. It provides necessary transparency to research, saves time, allows to learn and build on the existing open framework. The next step would be to expand the knowledge and application of the models, do more analyses, cover more countries and sectors, involve more scholars in the field. Some of the open models are model-generating software/libraries, and probably most of them can be recalibrated for another region, country, sector, or industry. Though the learning process takes time. And initially developed for a particular country model is not necessarily well documented and easy to use for others. Some help from developers is required. Open decarbonization initiative aims to facilitate the process of unification and dissemination of open energy models by connecting developers of the models with researchers who are interested in replicating and contributing decarbonization analyses for countries and regions of interest. This might be achieved by the following structure: • Accessible models/libraries with support from developers; • Researchers interested in developing country-, region-, or sector-level models, and reproducing decarbonization scenarios; • Funders who want to support a particular country-project, development of new feature in models, a new scenario, or the networking to grow the community.
Which models qualify for the project?
The necessary requirements for a model to be listed in the project are:
- Open source code;
- Successful application to deep decarbonization analysis, an essential set of features/technologies to evaluate zero-to-negative emissions scenarios for energy system;
- A collection of deep decarbonization scenarios in reproducible research format (scripts) with drafted post-processing, necessary output for analysis (tables, charts);
- The readiness of developers to provide support (might be a subject to time and funding), develop required documentation, online tutorials, new features;
- Developers of every model are encouraged to provide free support for the first 3-5 pilot projects (countries/regions/sectors) for testing, understanding missing features, documentation, and for demonstration.
The mainstream models are expected to be technological reference energy system models. Though there is no restriction for other models to be listed in the project if they contribute knowledge to deep decarbonization, for instance, more focused on a particular technology (like a grid).
Who can get help from developers?
Anyone interested in recalibrating/updating and contributing an energy model and scenarios to the project can potentially receive help from the model developers, listed by the project. Though the goal of the project is to optimize the time of every party by providing clear instructions of the model replication and recalibration. With the growth of the community, the support might be provided by the community itself.
The expected contributors are universities, especially post-graduate and graduate students, as well as research organizations, think-tanks, experts, and consultants.
On funding and volunteering
By contributing to the open World, developers of models and researchers who provide scenarios imply that the public good they create is more important than exploiting their own masterpiece for consulting and academic reasons, that the tools they were working on for years, now can be used by others with few to no limitations. This is already happening – open energy modeling community is growing fast.
The ambition of the project is to facilitate the development of a unified and comparable set of decarbonization scenarios for every country, territory, or region of the World in the shortest possible time. Such massive work, even if well-organized, still requires a substantial investment of time from everyone involved, but the most burden might be carried by developers, at least in the beginning. Therefore, to make the work going, it is crucial to have some support.
The project will reach out to potential donors, interested parties, and seek support for the contributors. Though the goal of the project is not making the ongoing work dependent on the availability of funds. With around 200 countries, it is not feasible to acquire funds for each particular project. Also, fundraising takes time and diverts resources. Therefore, most of the work is expected to be self-funded voluntary contribution from the community in exchange of knowledge and better future for everyone.
Developers of models are advised to discuss the opportunity to contribute part of their time to the project with obvious co-benefits for the reputation of the organization, consider the contribution as a potential co-funding in the organization’s projects.
The infrastructure (in development)
The website (https://opendecarbonization.org/) will list and track ongoing projects, help developers and researchers meet each other, suggest funding opportunities.
Open models and particular projects can be hosted by developers on their own accounts at GitHub or GitLab and will be forked by @opendecarbonization as available for development models, country-projects, or scenarios.
Depending on the topic (related to a particular model, project, or general) – on the GitHub, GitLab repository forums, the project (opendecarbonization.org) or partner websites (OpenMod and other).
The developers are free to choose a license for their models from the standard set of open source licenses. Though it is recommended to use copy-left GPL licenses, and AGPL3 when possible.
The data from the analyses (scenarios) will be published under the creative commons license.
Cooperation with other projects
The ultimate goal of the project is a better future for everyone. Any project with similar goals can be automatically considered as an ally or a partner. It is essential to collaborate for such projects rather than compete. And it is never enough research, there are always ways to improve models and scenarios. Sharing experience in modeling, cooperation help to avoid duplications and mistakes.
Opendecarbonization.org should be considered as a part of the growing open-modeling community with a particular focus on decarbonization.