After four years of intense work, the Research Group of Energy, Economy and Systems Dynamics of the University of Valladolid (GEEDS-UVa) is pleased to announce that we have just published the scientific article that describes the methodology of the MEDEAS models, for whose development we were fully responsible in the framework of the MEDEAS European project. We are especially pleased to have published it in Energy & Environmental Science, a leading international journal, which validates that the MEDEAS methodology, despite its novelty and ambition, is robust and well justified.

MEDEAS is a pioneering model in various aspects. It has been designed to facilitate the evaluation of energy transition policies, with a novel approach that integrates biophysical, economic, social and technological constraints. Since the massive use of fossil fuels began in the 19th Century, economic theories have remained oblivious to the limitations that energy and ecology impose on their activities (abandoning the factor of production “land” of the Physiocrats and maintaining only capital and labour). Only recently have these restrictions begun to be introduced through the schools of Ecological Economics and Biophysical Economics.

MEDEAS model is a bridge between Ecological Economics and Post-Keynesian Economics (where economic production is a function of demand, which in turn depends on the distribution of income; importance of adjustments via quantities rather than via prices, etc. ) and apply novel assumptions that try to correct weaknesses present in most of the integrated assessment models: the poor integration – lack of feedbacks – between submodules, the predominance of artificial optimization and equilibrium approaches to resolve the allocation of resources, the assumption of abundance of energy resources (both fossil and renewable), the omission of material and energy investments related to the transition to renewables and the lack of coherence of the impacts expected from climate change by the natural sciences.

MEDEAS models address these deficiencies through a detailed sectoral economic structure based on input-output analysis (representation of interdependence between different economic sectors) within a system dynamics approach rich in dynamic feedbacks. Both the availability of energy and the impacts of climate change feed back in the model and can become limiting factors in the economic process. MEDEAS models also study the effect of mineral limitations on the energy transition and estimates the net energy available to society through the concept of the dynamic energy return on energy Invested (EROI).

Another of the characteristics of the MEDEAS models is its flexibility and transparency, which reach levels that are rare in the scientific literature. The MEDEAS framework consists of three levels of models: global (MEDEAS-W), European Union (MEDEAS-EU) and country (for the cases of Austria and Bulgaria), of which the first 2 can be freely downloaded from the project website. There is also a free online course with videos and tutorials explaining the model and how to use it. GEEDS has also developed a game, freely available for anyone who wants to use or adapt it, in which through participative simulation and an interface which allows to easily and intuitively simulate MEDEAS-W, anyone can test and see the effects of different policies.

The flexibility of the MEDEAS models allows the user to choose whether or not to apply the novel assumptions on which they are based. These characteristics, together with a detailed description of the methodology used to design the models, is what is described in the academic publication that we present in this post. This publication, therefore, does not present scenarios with alternative policy proposals for sustainability, but only results on the current main dynamics and the effect of feedbacks. For this, a central scenario of continuation of tendencies has been simulated in which the energy restrictions and the feedback of climate change are functional and three other auxiliary scenarios in which these restrictions are sequentially deactivated in order to see their influence on the results. Table 1 shows the nomenclature used and the figure at the end of the post shows a selection of results in the four scenarios in terms of energy consumption, GDP per capita, the effects of technological improvement, as well as greenhouse gas emissions and average temperature increase.

Table 1: Nomenclature used in the article to refer to the 4 BAU (business-as-usual) variants explored: the reference scenario with all restrictions activated (Ref) and three cases of extreme sensitivity analysis, deactivating (1) restrictions on the availability of both renewable and non-renewable energy resources (no energy resources restrictions: noER), and / or (2) damages from climate change (noCC).

Name of each variant of the BAU scenario Restrictions to the availability of energy (renewable and non-renewable)? Damage from climate change?
Ref YES YES
Ref_noER NO YES
Ref_noCC YES NO
Ref_noER_noCC NO NO

Our results show that the continuation of current trends will lead in the future to an “explosive cocktail” of energy shortages (initiated by peak oil) and impacts of climate change that we think without a profound change in the currently dominant social priorities and economic system will most likely lead to scenarios of regionalization, conflict, and ultimately global crisis, leading to the collapse of our modern civilization. Due to the complexity of the topic and the difficulty of compressing it into a dissemination post, we refer to the original publication and the online course for more detailed explanations of these results.

Besides the results presented in this publication, we have also carried out some more tests simulating policies typically proposed within the framework of “Green Growth” (more economic growth, more efficiencies, more renewables, transition to electric mobility, etc.), which indicate that the usual policies based on purely technological changes will not be sufficient for a transition to a sustainable system worldwide. We consider that until now the MEDEAS models have not been applied to design any robust scenario of alternative policies to the disaster to which current trends lead us, work to which we will concentrate on in the future, which will require the development of cross-sectoral behavioural change policies and the representation of an economic system with greater capacity to evolve and not based on growth.

We do not think that this model is capable of describing the entire energy and economic reality, but we do believe that it makes a valuable contribution to the development of models that can allow us to assess the urgent and radical changes we need in the face of the degradation we are causing in natural systems that sustain our existence. We will continue to improve it and make it evolve throughout the current H2020 LOCOMOTION project, for which we are coordinators, and we will continue to report through this blog or any other means for the next few years.

In these uncertain days marked by the coronavirus pandemic, especially harsh in our country, we wonder why the same forcefulness is not applied to deal with the declared Climate Emergency, with a destructive potential of planetary dimensions for the next human generations. Let us hope that the application of “radical” measures to stop the pandemic, which even contravenes some of the pillars of our system, can serve as precedents to stop the “spread” of the climate crisis. In this sense, it is shown that through intense media coverage and a pedagogical effort by the government and institutions, a significant part of society understands and is willing to make drastic changes (albeit supposedly temporally) in their lifestyles.*

GEEDS-UVa

Group of Energy, Economy and Systems Dynamics of the University of Valladolid (Spain)

Fig. 1: Selection of results of the 4 BAU variants (business-as-usual, continuation of current trends) applied in the model MEDEAS-World explored in the published academic article. The blue ranges to the right of the figures show the comparison with the range of BAUs reported in the IPCC-AR5 WG3 for the year 2100: median and reliable intervals at 50, 90 and 100%. $ are 1995 US dollars. GHG: Greenhouse gases; EROI: energy return on energy invested; GDP: Gross Domestic Product; Dmnl: dimensionless (x: 1 ratio). See references cited in the original article.

 

* In relation to this topic, we recommend the following article published in the newspaper Público (12-3-2020), as well as the recent post of Antonio Turiel in his blog “crashoil” (both in Spanish). One of the most important differences is that it is not the same to accept temporary drastic changes as is supposed in the case of coronavirus, than permanent ones, as it will most likely be to deal with the problem of climate change and the environmental crisis in general.

Reference to the article

Capellán-Pérez, I., Blas, I. de, Nieto, J., Castro, C. de, Miguel, L.J., Carpintero, Ó., Mediavilla, M., Lobejón, L.F., Ferreras-Alonso, N., Rodrigo, P., Frechoso, F., Álvarez-Antelo, D., 2020. MEDEAS: a new modeling framework integrating global biophysical and socioeconomic constraints. Energy & Environmental Science. https://doi.org/10.1039/C9EE02627D (descargable de forma gratuita)

Other articles published to date documenting different parts of the MEDEAS model (and which can be freely downloaded from our publications page):

Nieto, J., Carpintero, Ó., Miguel, L.J., de Blas, I., 2019. Macroeconomic modelling under energy constraints: Global low carbon transition scenarios. Energy Policy 111090. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.enpol.2019.111090

Capellán-Pérez, I., de Castro, C., Miguel González, L.J., 2019. Dynamic Energy Return on Energy Investment (EROI) and material requirements in scenarios of global transition to renewable energies. Energy Strategy Reviews 26, 100399. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.esr.2019.100399

de Blas, I., Miguel, L.J., Capellán-Pérez, I., 2019. Modelling of sectoral energy demand through energy intensities in MEDEAS integrated assessment model. Energy Strategy Reviews 26, 100419. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.esr.2019.100419

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