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Trade-offs and conflicting objectives of decision-making investments in low-carbon technology portfolios for sustainable development

National and continental insights offered by applying energy system models

Time: Tue 2022-06-14 14.00

Location: Kollegiesalen, Brinellvägen 8, Stockholm

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Language: English

Subject area: Energy Technology

Doctoral student: IOANNIS PAPPIS , Energiteknik, Energy systems

Opponent: Professor Catalina Spataru, Bartlett School Env, Energy & Resources, Energy Institute, University College London

Supervisor: Professor Viktoria Martin, Energisystem; Assistant Professor Will Usher, Energisystem; Professor Mark Howells, Loughborough University, Imperial College London

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Energy infrastructure and appropriate energy policies are crucial for sustainable development and to meet Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Limiting global warming potential below 1.5oC would require “rapid and far-reaching” transitions and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society. Several factors influence investment decisions on energy conversion technologies and their specific locations. The choice, timing, and location of energy investments affect the total system cost, socio-economic development, the environment (e.g., emissions, water use), and a nation's energy security. However, existing national energy modelling initiatives only investigate a subset of these pillars for achieving sustainability.

This thesis examines the challenges associated with the energy transition of low-and middle-income countries (Paraguay, Ethiopia, Africa). This work considers national and global policies, focusing on achieving SDG7 and SDG13. The dissertation includes a cover essay and four appended papers. The research conducted in this Thesis examines how energy-systems models can assist in understanding an energy system's complex interactions for sustainable development.

Specifically, the results highlight hydropower and solar PV as key technologies to achieve climate change targets, energy security and energy access goals. Hydropower and other renewable electricity can be exported to bolster energy security for the exporting country, although export revenues are eroded by local demand growth and low export prices. The benefits of low-cost electricity provided by cross-border hydropower should be balanced against energy security concerns for the importing country. The research demonstrates the benefits of regional coordination, with trade enabling renewable resources to be harnessed and the electricity transmitted to demand centres. Although RET decreases carbon dioxide emissions and water use compared to fossil-fuel plants and creates more jobs, they require high up-front capital costs offset by the lower operating fuel costs in the long term. Thus, increasing the ambition of climate targets while achieving electricity access results in lower cumulative costs. Also, although hydropower and renewable technologies build climate resilience, hydropower operation depends on climate variability affecting energy security. Thus, mitigation strategies should consider the associated challenges of climate change in hydropower investments.

Hydropower and renewables are primarily grid-connected technologies, so off-grid and mini-grid systems are key complements to national-grid expansion when pushing for universal energy access. They also impact energy security, total system costs and socio-economic development. 

This Thesis's outcomes can support governments in strategic energy planning to identify future renewable energy projects and ensure their financial viability. Energy systems in their transition need to be affordable, reliable and sustainable (e.g., energy secured, combat climate change) by being climate-resilient. The thesis findings demonstrate that nations need integrated energy planning, accounting for the geospatial characteristics of energy technologies, and water resources management to achieve SDG7 and build climate-resilient (SDG13). A broad portfolio of renewable technologies, interconnectors and a decentralized power generation system providing electricity closer to the end-user demand is needed to enhance energy security, decrease environmental pressures and provide affordable electricity for a nation.