PhD project on energy scenarios completed [28.07.2014]

Energy scenario studies are published in large numbers and heterogeneity. They are meant to support political decisions and, beyond that, the societal discussion about the future energy system at large. However, in these studies it often remains unclear what statements are exactly made with the scenarios and how they are justified – especially if computer models are used. Furthermore, the process of their generation is often non-transparent, so especially the role of the clients is not clear.

Christian Dieckhoff investigated these questions in his PhD thesis entitled "Modelled Future – On the Theory and Practice of Energy Scenarios in the Context of Scientific Policy Advice". On 18 June 2014 he successfully defended his thesis at the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences of the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology.

The thesis is based on an extensive empirical analysis of the practice of generating and using energy scenarios with a focus on semi-structured interviews with various relevant modelers of such scenarios. The results were then interpreted by means of theoretical concepts stemming from both social and philosophical science studies.

Christian Dieckhoff reconstructs two distinct arguments which are – according to the interviewees – typically addressed in energy scenario studies. The first one aims at a comparison of possibilistic predictions, whereas the second one focusses on the determination of the effects of certain policy measures. Critical premises and possible roles in scientific policy advice are discussed for both arguments. The epistemic state of the models used to generate the scenarios is identified as an especially critical premise. In some cases conclusions seem to be drawn from model calculations which are not sufficiently justified by the models. In addition, three idealized types of the studies' generation processes are reconstructed. For each of them specific requirements in terms of transparency in the context of scientific policy advice are discussed.

With his thesis Christian Dieckhoff is not only providing a basis for a critical reflection on the practice of generating and using energy scenarios, he also identifies the starting point for the further development and improvement of these scenarios.

The thesis is expected to be published by the end of 2014.

Further links