Long-term network development planning is one of the primary jobs of Transmission System Operators (TSOs). Via a process of energy system forecasting and modelling, TSOs tailor grids to the evolution of demand and generation, whilst securing an affordable supply of energy for the future.
Assumptions about the evolution of demand and generation are described in scenarios, which are representations of possible future developments of the energy landscape. Defining these scenarios is the first step in long-term planning studies.
They are intended to provide a quantitative basis for infrastructure investment planning, and are thus fundamental to determine the future design of the European electricity grid.
TSOs develop scenarios and models for long-term energy system studies at the national level (ENTSO-E covers the European level), while being regulated by European and national bodies.
Developing future scenarios and simulating them with market and grid models is a complex exercise. The outcome is highly dependent on assumptions put into the scenarios and the modelling process. At the same time, this process is a very useful and necessary step to understand which role a new grid project (individual line or a system of grids) would play with regards to implementation of decarbonisation scenarios.
While such processes are sometimes subjected to public consultation, the modelling tools are rarely open-source, and sensitive data not always public. As multiple other players have interest in energy infrastructure planning, some actors (primarily consultancies or research institutes) develop their own models to replicate modelling results or gain insights into the ‘what if’ of other future scenarios.
Despite the multitude of efforts to involve diverse actors throughout the energy modelling process, concerns amongst stakeholders can rise for a variety of reasons:
Transparency about the existing scenarios: public access to underlying assumptions, datasets, and design of models is perceived as being too low;
Range of existing scenarios and related grid needs: the variety of scenario studies is perceived as too low, which restrains other actors from understanding the impacts of “extreme” scenarios (e.g., with higher ambition regarding decarbonisation pathways, or with more pessimistic assumptions regarding the impact of climate change on the energy system).
For example: “what grid is needed in a decarbonised, energy efficient, highly decentralised, automated scenario where demand-side management (DSM) and storage play a big role, while climate adaptation measures ensure system resilience?”;
Capacity for stakeholders to engage in the modelling process: the different level of expertise between stakeholders and involved experts about the fundamentals of scenario development and modelling makes a meaningful dialogue difficult.
As a result, stakeholders who support the integration of renewables and understand the need for grids can also feel concerned about defending grid infrastructure needs, that are for instance part of European or national network development plans.
Since 2009, RGI takes part in addressing these challenges and plays an active role to enable a sustainable and decarbonised energy future.
In that context, RGI aims at diversifying the perspectives among the RGI’s ecosystem of actors and increasing knowledge among civil society representatives on the topic of climate and energy system modelling and electricity grid development. Our work involves bringing different actors into discussions and emphasising the need to integrate social, environmental, and climate constraints, which are often downplayed in energy models.
In 2016-2018, RGI organised a set of so-called Future Scenario Exchange workshops with the aim of improving the level of understanding amongst stakeholders with regard to scenario development and modelling. These exchanges also enabled TSOs to learn how their approaches could be adjusted in light of stakeholders’ concerns. This process shall enable all parties to play an increasingly constructive role in their countries/the European debate about what future grid infrastructure is needed. Out of this workshop series, we produced in 2018 joint conclusions Enabling a renewables-based electricity system.
Since 2019, the objectives behind Future Scenario Exchange workshops have been broadened and embedded with RGI’s Modellers' Exchange workshops. These discussions bring together experts from the climate and energy modelling community, as well as other stakeholders with similar interests, to discuss various needs and challenges in modelling future energy systems.
RGI has been working on energy modelling topics from various angles, such as: