Author: Zara Qadir

Insights into a Brazilian sustainable energy future

Dr Ivan Garcia Kerdan, a research associate at the Sustainable Gas Institute (SGI), at Imperial College, is developing a specialised energy systems model for Brazil which will help ensure the country has a low carbon economy in the future.

In this short blog post, Ivan tells us about how he is building a picture of the Brazilian energy economy and gathering data for a specialised MUSE-Brazil (funded by FAPESP/Newton Fund). 

Currently Brazil is in a post-World Cup/Olympic hangover, with the country’s economy shrinking for two years in a row. This has resulted in reduction of energy consumption in every sector of the economy. Between 2015 and 2016, the economic sector that suffered the most was Agriculture, where there was a reduction of 10.4% in energy use.  Energy use also has decreased across the energy (by 5.3%) and industrial sectors (1.1%). But on the other hand, the energy sector has increased its domestic supply. Fortunately, the Brazilian economy is already showing good signs of recovery. It is expected that there will be a 60% growth in the domestic energy demand in the next decade, and therefore careful energy planning is needed.

Currently Brazil  has clean energy mix, with 46% of its energy from renewables (hydropower and biofuels). MUSE-Brazil aims to generate plausible transitions to ensure a low carbon energy system remains. The framework for the model is based on a global energy systems model, MUSE , being developed at SGI.  MUSE-Brazil will help us understand what role natural gas (a transitional fuel) and biomethane will play in the energy system in 2050.

So how does Brazil’s developing gas market currently look? 10% of the country’s primary energy supply comes from gas. Brazil’s gas reserves are around 388-453 billion m³, with a daily production rate in 2016 of 103.8 million m³ and a reinjection rate of 35.0 million m³. Brazil also imports 32.1 million m³/day, mainly from the Bolivian pipeline and LNG imports. In the case of biogas and biomethane, despite a large production potential of between 63-100 million m³/day (mainly from agriculture and livestock residues and vinasse),  there are only 33 biogas power generation plants in operation. This accounts for 127 MW installed capacity.

In order to get a better understanding of the current Brazilian energy situation, I visited the largest two cities in Brazil, Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. My first visit in May was to Rio and the EPE (Empresa de Pesquisa Energetica or Department Energy Research). This  department is linked to the Ministry of Mines and Energy, and supports studies and research in planning the national energy sector.

Interestingly, EPE was created in 2004 after blackouts occurred in the country at the beginning of the century, which was mainly attributed to lack of planning. It was also in this period that the majority of the current gas-based power plants installed capacity were put in place (currently this stands at 12.9 GW), and provides the much-needed energy security to the power system.  Ricardo Gorini’s team from the energy economic department arranged meetings with specialists at each one of these sectors. As part of my work on MUSE-Brazil, I need to fully comprehend the specific characteristics of every energy subsector in the economy and the various interactions between them.

While in Rio, I also visited UFRJ-COPPE Energy Planning department led by Prof Roberto Schaeffer. This department is the first energy planning programme in Brazil and is recognised worldwide for its contributions to the international reports on climate change.  Characterised by an interdisciplinary approach, it associates the technological dimension of energy with political, economic, social and environmental aspects. At COPPE, I learnt  more about their own energy system model (MESSAGE-Brazil) which aims to evaluate Brazil’s role in a low carbon global economy and has been used to produce outputs for government and academic reports.

As part of bigger FAPESP/NERC project, MUSE-Brazil is only a small part of a wider collaborative research with the University of São Paulo (USP), University College London (UCL), University of Cardiff and University of Leeds. Other projects are looking at optimising bio-refinery efficiency, and the socio-economic impacts of bioenergy production, as well as examining land use and ecosystems impact of bioenergy production.

During my first visit to Brazil, I also spent  time at USP which is also the home of the Research Centre for Gas Innovation (RCGI). This Institute works very closely with the Sustainable Gas Institute (SGI). RCGI aims to examine the sustainable use of natural gas, biogas, hydrogen and management, transport, storage and and usage of carbon dioxide on a global scale.

In late September, I returned again to São Paulo, and USP to present an update of MUSE-Brazil based on some of my findings from my first trip. Although the model is still in its early stages, this was also an opportunity to present at the joint SGI/RCGI conference, Sustainable Gas Research & Innovation 2017. 

Delegates at the Sustainable Gas Research & Innovation Conference 2017

RCGI projects are spread across three different disciplines: i) Engineering, ii) Physical-Chemistry and iii) Policies and Economics topics. At the conference, some of the most insightful presentations were, “Studies of the application of laser (LIDAR) for atmospheric pollution measurement” by Roberto Guardani, which focused on the application of remote sensing to measure fugitive emissions associated with the petroleum industry. I also enjoyed the presentation given by Renato Romio and Clayton Barcelos, “Development of a hybrid penta-fuel flex vehicle” which uses big data techniques to understand the use of a hybrid car in real traffic conditions with the aim of improving efficiency in the transport sector. It is planned that some of these outputs, directly or indirectly will be used in MUSE-Brazil to populate the model.

Ivan in São Paulo

Several contacts and collaborations have been put in place from this visit.  I am looking forward for the upcoming year and expecting great results from this collaboration. Most importantly, the insights gained from my experience at both at UFRJ/EPE in Rio de Janeiro and USP in São Paulo has been crucial for understanding the requirements, needs, and challenges of the energy sector in Brazil.

What I am taking away from my time working in Brazil is that although there is still plenty of research to do, we are following the right path to understand the potential of Brazil in a low carbon economy. More data and modelling efforts are still necessary to produce robust outputs with MUSE-Brazil. The model should be ready by April 2019; we will provide open access to the code and the majority of the data.

About the author: Ivan is currently based in the Department of Chemical Engineering at Imperial College. He has a degree and MSc from the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) and a PhD in the Energy Institute at University College London. His areas of interest are energy analysis, thermodynamics, low-carbon technologies, energy systems modelling and optimisation.

Women from Imperial College are finding innovative energy solutions

36797As today is International Women’s Day (IWD), we wanted to celebrate the contribution women are making to tackling climate change.

Dr Sara Budinis, a chemical engineer from Imperial College, provides her thoughts on the subject during Women@Imperial Week, an annual celebration of the achievements of female staff and students at Imperial past and present.

What contributions have women made to climate change and future energy?

At Imperial College, women have contributed to finding innovative solutions for providing energy in many different ways.

For example, there is work on transferring waste wood material into fuel (Florence Gschwend, Chemical Engineering Department) as well as research into gathering wind and vibrational energy from existing city infrastructure in order to produce renewable energy (Charlotte Slingsby, Innovation Design Engineering MSc/MA)

We also have researchers developing open-source biorenewable system models, providing insights into sustainable design of future biorenewable systems (Miao Guo, Chemical Engineering Department).

What women could do to bring about change and finding solutions to tackle climate change?

20170202_135211 smaller
I think women’s potential is still unexplored, given that currently only 12.8% of the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics workforce is female.

Can you even imagine what would happen if we could go to 30%, 50% or even above that? At this point in time we need to inspire girls towards science and engineering, and convey our love for our profession to our daughters (and sons ofcourse!).

I recently attended a talk given by our vice-provost for education, Professor Simone Buitendijk, where she said that “you cannot be what you cannot see” and I couldn’t agree more.

This picture was taken during that talk, and the movie “Hidden Figures” was used to show hidden women who changed the world.

earth-108068_1920 smallHow can we nurture women’s leadership in climate change movements?
A recent report from the United Nation has shown how much women are directly affected by climate change, and this should reinforce even more our engagement into this field.

With great power comes great responsibility (yes, we need superheroes and superpowers) and therefore we need to have a system in place to facilitate juggling the multiple commitments women have to face towards their profession but also towards their private life, for instance if they are taking care of children, relatives and family members.

In particular, the parental responsibility should be shared, when possible, among the parents, so that having a family would not affect women more than men when in the workplace.

CCS-report-170516-001-smaller ZQHow are you contributing?
Last year, I worked on a paper that explored the potential role of Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) over the next 85 years.

I am currently modelling how the industrial sector could evolve into the future in order to meet our demand for material commodities while reducing its impact towards the environment.

This module is part of an energy systems model called MUSE, which is being launched in the Summer.

The aim of the model is to see which innovative technologies could reduce energy costs, improve efficiency, or reduce greenhouse gas emissions.


Here are some further thoughts from our team at the Sustainable Gas Institute:-
Yingjian Gao b&w

“There is no wonder that women’s capability in driving technological innovation and conducting statistical analysis should be appreciated. Moreover, women’s advantage in conveying emotion in communication can be very useful in drawing public attention and raising public awareness to help tackling climate change.”

[Yingjian Guo]


“There are many aspects which will make women a key player to limit climate change effects. I believe that the major one would be to educate future generations and increase awareness about our responsibility towards the conservation of the environment.”

[Dr Sara Giarola, Research Fellow]

Julia Sachs b&w 3

“Women have a unique position when it comes to climate change due their central role in families and communities in particular in rural regions.  Women stand at the front lines in the battle against climate change. They have a broad knowledge and experience in the management of natural resources and higher sensibility to climate change that can be used to change the consumption pattern in their daily lives that shrink their carbon footprint and adapt to new sustainable methods or technologies.

Helping women gain further access to information about new technologies and supporting the expansion of women’s rights and their leadership in climate-related activities can increase the mitigation of climate change worldwide.”

[Dr Julia Sachs, Research Associate]

VIDEO: Developing the natural gas section for a Global Energy Systems Model (MUSE)

This short two-minute film features, Yingjian Guo, a PhD student at the Department of Chemical Engineering, at Imperial College.

Yingjian’s PhD is looking at exploring the role of natural gas transport and distribution infrastructure in Future Low Carbon Energy Systems.

In this short film (a series of three student films), Yingjian describes her motivations for working in the area of energy and climate change.

She also talks about working on the natural gas module of the MUSE (Modular Universal energy system Simulation Environment), which is a new model that SGI is developing to analyse energy systems at a global level.

A beta version of the MUSE energy systems model will be available in July 2016 . If you want to find out more about the model, please read our MUSE page.

VIDEO: Developing the transport model for a Global Energy Systems Model (MUSE)

This short two minute film features Arnaud Koehl, a PhD student at the School of Public Health, at Imperial College who also works at the Grantham Institute and at the Sustainable Gas Institute (SGI).

Arnaud studied International Relations in France and Environmental Economics at UCL. He is now exploring the the kind of sustainable transport policies that could co-benefit health and the economy while addressing climate change.

In this short film (a series of three student films), Arnaud describes his motivations for working in the area of energy and climate change.

He also talks about working on the transport module of the MUSE (Modular Universal energy system Simulation Environment), which is a new model that SGI is developing to analyse energy systems at a global level.

Investigating the state of low-carbon transport policies at COP22

Last week, Arnaud Koehl, a PhD researcher at the Department of Primary Care and Public Health at Imperial College, attended the United Nations Conference of the Parties COP22 climate conference in Marrakech. Arnaud is investigating the kind of sustainable transport policies that could co-benefit health and the economy while addressing climate change.


The importance of transport in combating climate change

The transport sector represents about 14% of worldwide greenhouse gases emissions (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change IPCC, 2010). More worryingly, the International Energy Agency (IEA) projects a huge growth in private motorised modes of transport; according to these estimates, there will be around 2 billion cars on the roads by 2040! It is therefore paramount that we find low-carbon pathways that will meet the increasing demand for mobility.

So how will these transport emissions (addressed by the Paris Agreement) be enforced by 2020? The way the Agreement is framed relies on the good will of each nation or signatory: countries put forward policies to reduce greenhouse gases emissions for each economic sector (e.g. industry, agriculture, housing) themselves. The legal name for these voluntary targets is “Intended Nationally Determined Contribution” (INDC). This architecture provides the flexibility needed to address climate policies according to the local context. This strategy proved to be quite successful as three out of four of all countries mention transport in their INDCs.

Cycle-sharing demonstration scheme in front of COP22

Lessons from COP22: Chinese engagement, policy trends and international cooperation

In the spirit of the Paris Agreement, COP22 proposes a “strong vision, light touch”. I was particularly interested in what this meant for China. The National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), an important governmental body, just released a report titled “China’s policies and actions for addressing climate change – 2016” .

This report mentions that fuel efficiency improved by 15.9% (2005) for private cars and ships and by 13.5% (2016) for the civil aviation sector. A director at the NDRC, whom I interviewed, stressed that this was the result of an emphasis on “green, circular, low-carbon” policies imposed on the private sector within the 12th (2011 -2015) and 13th  (2016-2020) five-year plans of the Chinese government. He was also clear on the fact that these policies are being tested and implemented through thousands of projects around China.

In terms of transport modes, I found a clear consensus on acknowledging the benefits of implementing bus-1678945_640Bus Rapid Transit systems across populated urban areas. These are dedicated lanes, typically in the center of the road. The increased use of trains and trams were also leading to a consensus between representatives from differing nations, such as Ethiopia and the United States. Smarter forms of using private motorised modes, such as carpooling, car-sharing, on-demand taxis were also seen as potential ways of reducing emissions.


Beyond its final results, COP22 was also the opportunity to seal partnerships to spread good practices internationally. Initiatives from official actors and civil society are soaring in an attempt to implement green policies on time. A good example is Mobilise Your City, gathering 100 cities around the world supporting local governments in developing countries to plan and foster sustainable low-carbon urban mobility. A core belief that Mobilise Your City is promoting among its members is that improving mobility is only relevant if there is a net well-being effect.

How research at the Sustainable Gas Institute can help

muse-2At the start of the year, I was working on the transport module of a new energy systems model developed by researchers at Sustainable Gas Institute (SGI), Imperial College London. The model is called MUSE (Modular Universal energy system Simulation Environment). The aim is that industry will be able to use the model for technology and R&D roadmapping, while it will help international governments make future plans for climate change mitigation.

Uses of the MUSE Model

MUSE could help answer key COP22 issues. Many participants at COP-22 stressed the lack of research on freight transport, despite the fact that it represents half of overall transport emissions. By taking into account freight-related transportation, MUSE enables us how to assess how policy-makers could avoid unwanted developments, such as a spread of high polluting cars, by looking at the incidence of the price of new technologies based on factors such as economic growth.

Another major opportunity would be to look at the improvement in fuel efficiency of current technologies, such as diesel, petrol and hybrid. Indeed, the share of electric vehicles in the world’s fleet will soar, but fossil fuel powered vehicles will remain an important part of the equation until 2050.

electric-car-558344_640Finally, the MUSE model allows to test such interventions at the national level, which is a relevant scale as powerful policy-makers are often found in capitals. Sanjay Sath, from The Energy and Resources Institute, and Jose Viegas, from the International Transportation Forum expressed the necessity of adopting a dual approach, by implementing national policies at the local level. In that perspective, many highlighted the critical need to get more indicators measuring the progress of environmental policies on the ground to ensure of actual improvement of well-being. An example of such indicators is the proximity of public transport to social housing.

MUSE could make the most of the currently available data in order to give an insight on the future place of transport in urban dynamics, and thus help calculating these indicators further.

You can find out more about MUSE here.

SGRI 2016 Conference: My reflections on natural gas innovation and sustainability in Brazil

Dr Julia Sachs, a Research Associate at the Sustainable Gas Institute shares some insights from this year’s Sustainable Gas Research and Innovation 2016 conference.Conference logo

Last month, I had the opportunity to attend the first annual conference in natural gas sustainability and innovation, which took place in São Paulo, Brazil. One of the main aims of the conference, co-organised by the Sustainable Gas Institute (SGI) and Research Centre for Gas Innovation (RCGI), was to bring together international stakeholders from academia and industry, and to explore the role of natural gas in the global energy landscape and a low carbon world.

Deep offshore wave generator tank

São Paulo was an excellent location for the conference as it’s a key industrial hub in Brazil, and also responsible for 10.7% of Brazilian GDP.

Before the conference, we had the opportunity to tour around the University of São Paulo (USP) campus (where RCGI is based) and find out more about the research taking place at our sister institute, in the Laboratories of the Mechanical Engineering and Chemical Engineering departments.

It was really impressive to see the numerous experimental setups and how theoretical research was directly brought into practice. The highlight for me was the virtual reality simulator used for guiding boats into ports and also the deep offshore wave generator tank which serves as model for testing the durability of design for ships, renewable energy devices and offshore structures.

For the Olympics, the tank had even been programmed to generate an image of the Brazilian flag. You can see the video in this tweet.

The two day conference started with the directors from the co-hosting organisations, Prof  Nigel Brandon (SGI) and Prof Julio Meneghini (RCGI) introducing the keynote speakers, Dr Rob Littel (General Manager Gas Separation from Royal Dutch Shell) and Prof. Carlos Henrique de Brito Cruz (Scientific Director from FAPESP, the São Paulo Research Foundation).

RCGI / Conference 2016 - São Paulo - Sustainable Gas Research & Inovation Conference 2016, no Hotel Mercure. Rob Littel,General Manager Gas Separation, Shell Foto:Luiz Prado / LUZ
Dr Rob littel from Royal Dutch Shell

Dr Rob Littel emphasised the current challenges faced by the industry; CO2 regulations, a lower oil price, and rising energy demand which will require a diverse energy landscape and a combination of fossil fuels and renewables as well as new innovations. Dr Littel described two promising separation technologies; the next-generation post combustion capture of CO2 potentially using solid sorbents and carbon molecular sieve membranes for natural gas separation to achieve a reduction of the amount of space required and up to 60% cost savings.

He also emphasised the need for a strong collaboration between universities and industry to successfully face these challenges, and that the role universities such as Imperial College and University of  São Paulo (USP) will play in identifying the most promising technology pathways.

RCGI / Conference 2016 - São Paulo - Sustainable Gas Research & Inovation Conference 2016, no Hotel Mercure. Carlos Brito, FAPESP. Foto:Luiz Prado / LUZ
Prof Carlos Henrique de Brito Cruz from FAPESP

The second keynote was Prof. Carlos Henrique de Brito Cruz, who emphasised the role of Brazil in meeting these challenges, in particular São Paulo as an unique city/state with significant economic, research and academic importance.

In Brazil, nearly half (47%) of power is from renewables such as biofuels. He also mentioned how Brazil is the world’s second largest producer of ethanol fuel which uses an exclusive blend of ethanol and gasoline to run light vehicles. The question is how to integrate renewables with natural gas.

While travelling around São Paulo, we were aware of one of the major problems facing the city. Huge traffic jam build ups to 100km long are common. Prof. Carlos Henrique de Brito Cruz mentioned this congestion issue, and the resulting high CO2 emissions which requires technological innovations.

The core of the conference consisted of a series of talks about ongoing projects of the RCGI and SGI covering a wide range of topics in areas such as engineering, physics, chemistry, modelling, economics, policy, and energy efficiency all under the linked to drive the wider research field of sustainable gas innovations.

In total, RCGI has 29 projects in different phases of a technology’s life cycle.

As a member of the Energy System Modelling team, it was of particular interest to me to identify how energy models that could be applied to the different projects.

In particular, Energy Systems Models such as those being developed at SGI (MUSE) will play an increasingly influential role to identify trends in the energy market, the effects of policy regulations and the requirements needed and necessary actions to meet different environmental and economic objectives.

A diagram of the MUSE model

MUSE is designed to generate plausible transitions of energy systems towards a low carbon economy with a specific focus on the role of gas in delivering a more sustainable future.

One of the highlights of the conference was the panel discussion “An international perspective: Innovation in natural gas”. The list of speakers included global experts from academia, government and industry to discuss the opportunities and challenges with natural gas as well as to give a perspective about the innovation technologies that might be required.

RCGI / Conference 2016 - São Paulo - Sustainable Gas Research & Inovation Conference 2016, no Hotel Mercure. Prof. Jim Watson. Foto:Luiz Prado / LUZ
Dr Jim Watson and the panel

Some key points were highlighted during the discussion:

  • Natural gas needs to be considered as an isolated solution but as part of the global energy mix.
  • New technologies (e.g. CCS) are needed to enable an efficient use of natural gas to meet the agreements of the COP-21
Credit: The Economist

Although, there exists some common points about the future of natural gas across the world, the problems individual countries face and the role of natural gas is surprisingly different. For example, in the UK, the national gas consumption is already declining. While, in contrast, natural gas presents a promising solution to limit emissions in coal dominated markets such as China.

Research from the International Energy Agency (IEA) generally shows that natural gas is likely to play a crucial role in two main areas: in the transport and the power sectors. In particular, there is a trend for the use to substitute coal in the OECD counties and as an addition to the energy mix in non-OECD regions to meet the rising energy demand while simultaneously limit emissions. The US has a large amount of natural gas as ethane resources which raises the problem of how to cost efficiently export natural gas and also how best to use the ethane.

One of the take home messages for me was that there are different drivers in different parts of the world based on the availability of gas, the accessibility, the price and in particular the existing energy mix but all aim to limit emission and require innovations to reach these goals.

Julia is a Research Associate working on the MUSE energy systems model at the Sustainable Gas Institute.

The next Sustainable Gas Research Innovation conference will take place on September 17th and 18th in 2017. Please email for further information. 


4 things you should know about World’s Energy Outlook Post COP21

A blog from an event organised by the Grantham Institute and Energy Futures Lab– Imperial College London.

On Friday 26th February 2016, Kamel Ben Naceur, Director for Sustainability, Technology and Outlooks at the International Energy Agency (IEA), came to Imperial College London and presented the main findings of the latest edition of the IEA’s flagship publication, the World Energy Outlook 2015.

1.The world’s energy scene is changing.

1 IEA2015 has seen a reduction of price for all fossil fuels and further reduction of investment in upstream oil and gas (24% reduction).
In the balance between supply and demand of oil worldwide, the demand is currently lower than the supply however they should meet again in late 2017. Oil production is expected to grow up to 14 million barrels a day by 2040, with a heavier international reliance on Iraq and the Middle East. In the US power generation sector, coal share has moved from 48.2% (2008) to 33.33% (2016) and its price is expected to remain stable up to 2020. Gas share has instead increased (from 21.4% in 2008 to 32.3% in 2016). At the same time, renewable sources have seen the highest annual addition in 2014 (about 130 GW) and their power capacity is expected to rise by 40% in the timeframe 2014-2020. One of the consequence of all these changes is that global emissions did not rise in 2014.

  2. The green transition is already happening2 IEA

Along with all the changes taking place in the energy market in the past few years, the Paris agreement signed last December represents a milestone towards the decarbonisation of the energy sector. The price of green technologies (land-based wind, distributed PV, utility-scale PV, batteries and LEDs) is decreasing and this trend will continue up to 2040, especially for efficient lighting and solar PV.

3 IEA3. The IEA’s Bridge Scenario can help reduce carbon emissions, and international cooperation is the key

The policy pillars of the IEA Bridge Scenario include increased energy efficiency, reduced least-efficient coal power, raised renewable investments, reformed fossil-fuel subsidies and reduced upstream methane emissions. Implementing these five actions internationally can help meet the Paris agreement targets.

4. The “well below 2⁰C“ target suggested during COP-21 represents a major challenge

The Paris agreement suggests an ambitious target of “well below 2⁰C”. This target is therefore more stringent tha5 IEAn what was previously suggested in the 2D scenario of IEA. However moving the climate change target from 2⁰C to 1.5⁰C represents a major challenge for the global energy system. This new more stringent target is asking us to take actions in the next 6 to 17 years in order to be met.

For more details on the latest IEA World Energy Outlook, you can take a look at the executive summary.

The slides have been kindly provided by the Grantham Institute – Imperial College London.


Natural Gas: What role can it play in the UK in future?

newseventsimagesJoin us for this seminar hosted by the Sustainable Gas Institute which will explore potential future pathways for the sourcing and use of natural gas.

Date:    18 Feb 2016
Time:    12:00 – 13:00
Venue:    Department of Chemical Engineering, Lecture Theatre 3 (RODH 333)
Event type:    Seminar
Audience:    Open to all
Ticket:    Drop in

Claire Carter (@clairecarter68) a PhD student at SPRU, University of Sussex and member of the Sussex Energy Group last year completed a research scholarship at the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology. The research output “Future of Natural Gas in the UK” POSTnote was published in November 2015. This briefing considers potential future pathways for the sourcing and use of natural gas in the UK. Claire will be visiting to present her research at the seminar. 

The POSTnote can be found online:

Lecture theatre can be found by following this link.

Follow tweets with #impsgi or @SGI_London

For more information, visit the Imperial College website.

BLOG: Building better energy systems models in the run up to COP-21

Dr Daniel Crow is a Research Associate at the Sustainable Gas Institute. Daniel’s research is focussed on the mathematical treatment of whole systems approaches to energy modelling.

The good and the great of the international Integrated Assessment Modelling (IAM) community assembled in Potsdam in November for the 8th annual meeting of the IAM consortium.  I’m used to attending conferences in slightly off-the-beaten-track places (due, perhaps, to a supposition that relative isolation leads to fewer distractions and a more focused delegation), and this one proved no except2617353101_0986a1be9e_oion.  Perched on the edge of the Spree, in deep forest, our conference hotel was accessible only by foot along an empty track lit by arching, lonely sodium lamps.  A wild boar squealed at me on the first night.  It all looked a bit DDR.

Academic matters, however, felt decidedly 21st Century.  Main themes included a review of the state-of-the-art in IAM and an evaluation of the potential contributions that Integrated Assessment Models could make in the future.  Such models typically integrate the knowledge and methods of different academic disciplines (such as Engineering, Physics and Computer Science) to study complex problems at the nexus of the social, economic, environmental and political sciences, such as Climate Change.

Einstein’s Tower

There was much talk of the effictiveness, or not, of Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) as a sensible route to implement climate action.  Miles Perry (European Commission) pointed out the need for a more “cross-border” approach to emissions targets and, in the run-up to the United Nations COP-21 meeting in Paris, expressed the Commission’s desire to “deliver a robust international agreement” and set “fair and ambitious targets for all countries based on evolving global economic and national circumstances”.

Roberto Schaeffer (COPPE) questioned the “watered-down” tone of the EU’s statement, as well as the continuing focus on mitigation rather than adaptation and resilience.  Schaeffer also pointed out that IAMs typically characterise climate mitigation in terms of costs above a business-as-usual scenario, misleadingly failing to include the (potentially much greater) costs of the fall-out from Climate Change: the costs of doing nothing.  Perhaps we should all be including an explicit “climate cost” in our objective functions.

The most interesting talks for me were those on uncertainty and the use of IAM projections. James Price (UCL) described a way to explore different future energy scenarios by IAMs_draw_smaller-1024x730relaxing the requirement that the model (in this case UCL-TIAM) minimise the total cost.  Most normative models calculate the cheapest way in which a climate constraint (such as a less-than-2°C rise by the year 2100) could be achieved.  They show us “idealised” transition pathways that are rarely followed in messy reality.  Price’s talk explained how to build up a more realistic picture of future energy systems by exploring “maximally different” scenarios, each of which keeps the total cost low without formally minimising it.

Such “wiggle-room” might be a way to capture the uncertainties associated with brute optimization.  Although the model we are developing at Sustainable Gas Institute (SGI), MUSE, does not rely on minimising system costs, we might yet pursue some of these ideas as a way to improve the plausibility and robustness of MUSE outputs.

6a00e5500b4a64883301b7c7d850c5970bI was struck also by Evelina Trutnevyte’s (ETH) talk on the “impossible mission of embracing parametric and structural uncertainties”. Trutnevyte retro-modelled the UK power system transition between 1990 and 2010 using the bottom-up D-Expanse model and compared her results with what actually happened.  Total system costs were around 17% higher than those corresponding to the optimal transition pathway, leading to significantly different transition implications for technology deployment.  With a front-row perspective on all the myriad uncertainties that go into an Energy Systems Model, I found myself thinking that missing the mark by only 17% was actually rather impressive.

The meeting ended with a discussion on future perspectives and opportunities for Integrated Assement Modelling.  As the political debate involving “who?”, “what?” and “when?” type questions reaches its climax at COP-21 in Paris, it seems evident that IAMs and Energy Systems Models will play an increasingly influential role in providing a more objective rationale behind internationally agreed actions on mitigation and adaptation.

Our models are emphatically not crystal balls to gaze into the future, but faster computers, more data and better methods should give us more and more confidence in the scenarios they produce, and allow us to quantify the uncertainty inherent in those scenarios.


To find out more about the energy systems model, Daniel and the SGI team are developing, please contact us at

BLOG: Building a cleaner natural gas supply chain

GasTech-560pxX300px-Twitter-LargeThe last few days in October saw the Gastech conference and exhibition carried out at the massive Singapore Expo. It was a large affair, with all the major gas companies discussing the most pressing issues for them, particularly emerging gas markets and the prospective rise of Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG). Helge Lund, the CEO of BG group, gave a keynote speech to kick off the conference. He gave his view on the challenges of incorporating gas in a lower carbon world: both a carbon price and a commitment from the industry to reduce methane and carbon dioxide emissions are vital.

It is indeed a challenge to incorporate a fossil fuel into a lower carbon world.  Natural gas is likely to play a crucial role on two fronts: reducing the dependency on the more carbon-intensive coal; and providing variable and peak electricity supply as a compliment to intermittent renewables. If we are going to carry on using gas for these services in the short and medium term, the environmental impacts must be minimised.

Our recent white paper at Sustainable Gas Institute published in September, assessed what we know about both methane and carbon dioxide emissions from the natural gas supply chain. The study found emissions to be highly variable, with some significant ‘hotspots’. Capture

In particular, very high methane emissions were found for liquids unloading processes, gas-driven pneumatic devices and compressors. For all of these sources, emissions were very variable and there are technologies and techniques that can minimise or even eliminate emissions. For example, gas-driven pneumatics could be replaced with instrument air drivers, compressors must be inspected regularly and dry-seals are much lower emitters than wet-seals for centrifugal compressors. The economic feasibility of these changes is likely to be variable but in many cases positive: i.e. a lower product loss more than pays for the increased capital or operating cost.

Another finding of the white paper on supply chain emissions was the appearance of ‘super emitters’ all across the supply chain.

Recent studies have found evidence of a small number of facilities or equipment that emit far more than the average, which significant skews the emissions distribution. These super emitters are likely to be due to the faulty or incorrect operation of equipment or ineffective inspection and maintenance procedures. Detecting the super emitters is the key challenge here, but once we do so, average emissions from the supply chain would be reduced significantly.

Paul Balcombe videoIn summary, no technological innovation is needed to reduce supply chain emissions significantly, only commitment to action from the gas industry. It is very promising to hear words of such commitment from world leading gas producers at Gastech and now is the time to act on this.

If you are interested in finding out more, please download the report, or a short summary note  or watch our short video.

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