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As Countries Look to Low-Carbon Energy Sources, IAEA Offers Support for Modelling Future Energy Demand


A significant share of emissions savings can be unlocked by measures focusing on consuming less and cleaner fuels. (Photo: A. Koreng/Flickr)

To ensure the global average temperature at the end of the century does not exceed 2°C above pre-industrial levels, members of the Paris Agreement are exploring diverse technological and regulatory options to limit carbon emissions. While moving away from the use of fossil fuels is key, measures related to energy demand can play a major role, as well. “Energy demand is a substantial ingredient of decarbonization strategies, but energy end-use sectors are very diverse and difficult to address,” explains Theodoros Zachariadis, Associate Professor at the Cyprus Institute. Accurate modelling of national energy needs is essential for government planning.

As part of its suite of energy-related support, the IAEA offers assistance in energy planning for sustainable development, providing methodologies, energy modelling tools and associated training. The IAEA hosted a virtual training course, with the support of the Cyprus Institute, in November 2020.

The course aimed to help countries in Europe and Central Asia to assess their national energy needs and to better understand how those needs may be affected by policy measures, industry practices, behavioural incentives and emissions targets. The two-week technical cooperation (TC) activity[1] equipped energy and climate specialists with the tools and capacities needed to evaluate, prioritize and communicate measures designed to reduce energy demand related greenhouse gas emissions.

"Events such as these are most beneficial for participants like me,” said Petranka Boncheva, a North Macedonian energy expert. “They allow for an exchange of experiences in the measures used by a particular country or region to reduce emissions, such as high-efficiency appliances, rational-use policies or fuel substitution.”

Throughout the training course, energy and climate specialists were trained in the use of tools needed to evaluate, prioritize and communicate measures designed to reduce energy demand related greenhouse gas emissions. (Photo: M. Welsch/IAEA)

Understanding the challenge

National climate plans required by the Paris Agreement, known as Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), have established 2050 as a long-term deadline for countries to decarbonize their energy systems and economies. Decision makers can draw on insights from modelling tools to better understand national energy needs across the next 30 years to determine regulations, policies and approaches to achieve climate neutrality.

The Model for Analysis of Energy Demand (MAED), one of the IAEA’s energy modelling tools, is designed to help policy makers to evaluate future energy demand based on medium- to long-term scenarios. These scenarios allow experts to consider the effects of both large and small factors, from the type of electrical appliances used in households to the introduction of public transportation options.

“MAED is based on a scenario-simulation technique, allowing users to plug-in relevant variables and determining factors to produce a picture of the future. This approach addresses the various levels at which decisions are made—decisions by the government, by industry and by consumers,” explained Ahmed Irej Jalal, an international expert in energy planning and former IAEA Unit Head. “At each level, MAED facilitates an understanding of the effect of such decisions by means of a detailed analysis of the social, economic and technological factors.”

“The most important aspect about MAED is its simple, user-friendly and straightforward interface that requires a lower learning curve and time commitment compared to other energy models,” said Anton Chaushevski, a Professor at the Saints Cyril and Methodius University in Skopje, North Macedonia and participant in the course. “This is particularly important for institutions with limited resources and high staff turnover.”

The Model for Analysis of Energy Demand (MAED) is one of the IAEA’s energy modelling tools and is designed to help policy makers to evaluate future energy demand based on medium- to long-term scenarios. (Photo: M. Welsch/IAEA)

The MAED approach does not simply estimate the total volume of energy demand, but it also provides a detailed assessment of its composition. “Using MAED, we’re encouraged to go beyond the volume of energy needed, and to investigate how energy is used, what factors drive its use and what alternatives exist,” explained Manuel Welsch, IAEA Energy Planner and Economist. “MAED allows us to consider a broader range of solutions, considering energy efficiency measures, behavioural and structural change as well as fuel switching.”

Asked about the related value of bottom-up energy models like MAED, Constantinos Taliotis of the Cyprus Institute said, “Bottom-up energy models, like MAED, offer the option for a detailed technological representation that is not possible through top-down approaches. The ability to break economic sectors down to several subsectors enables a high degree of disaggregation of national economies, allowing for extraction of insights at a fine level of detail.”

This training course, attended by 37 professionals from 13 countries from the Europe and Central Asia, was the first of a series in the ongoing, regional TC project. The next energy planning course is expected to take place in early 2021 and will focus on the role of energy supply as part of energy and climate strategies. The subsequent course will then examine the role of electricity markets in the transition to low-carbon sources.

“Ultimately, these courses are aimed to support countries in evaluating and assessing how their energy systems need to be shaped in a low-carbon future,” says Christoph Henrich, IAEA Programme Management Officer. “This knowledge provides a solid foundation for the implementation of climate change mitigation policies and thus will be useful in defining countries’ commitments under the Paris Agreement.”

[1] RER2017, ‘Assessing the Role of Low Carbon Energy Technologies for Climate Change Mitigation’

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