Heidelberg University

Global Change and Globalization

Research group II:

Global change and the energy system: Assessing options and their impacts.

Energy has reappeared as one of the central themes in current debates about the medium to long-term future of human wellbeing. Over the last thirty years, globalized markets and global institutions have arisen that have significantly increased the potential to satisfy the material needs and enhance the living standards of a growing human population. At the same time, the increasing exploitation of this potential has highlighted the constraints inherent in the world´s energy supplies. These constraints come in two types: Availability constraints of finite resources and environmental constraints of resource use. The latter reflect the global environmental feedbacks of the energy system, in particular the effect of the use of fossil energy sources on global climate change. These effects, in turn, are inextricably intertwined with non-renewable mineral resources, land, and water issues. These environmental constraints will necessitate a quantitative and qualitative shift in the energy sector, one of the key parts of the global economy. The question is how globalized markets and global institutions will be able to manage the required changes in the energy sector both in technological and welfare terms.
The constraints within the energy-global change nexus will have to be reconciled with other policy objectives such as human development and energy security. In this project, physicists, geographers, economists and lawyers will join forces in order to assess the degree to which existing energy options meet these objectives. This will be done by examining the technological and economic characteristics of currently available or newly emerging energy options. The different disciplines will carry out this assessment from distinct, but mutually reenforcing perspectives, bringing different visions and different tools to the fore.

  • The economic literature is rich with studies that outline the desirable features of a new energy supply system and the dynamic path of R&D and capital accumulation. These features involve a diversified set of technologies with a number of desirable characteristics and answering to a number of trade-offs between spatial concentration, the volume of sunk capital, flexibility and commitment, and other aspects. Together, the economic team will define the desired features of an energy system that supports a continuation of the spatial pattern of development and will offer specific intertemporal and spatial scenarios of how this system will be realized.

  • The physics literature emphasizes the fundamental physical constraints that no global energy system can escape. At the same time, like the economic literature, the physics perspective has led to a number of distinct visions regarding the options that ought to be pursued by investing in technologies that stretch these constraints to the limits. These visions embody clear concepts within the physicists´ community about what constitutes the feasible set of energy options.

  • The geographical literature considers the spatial impacts of implementing different energy options on land use, geopolitical relationships, and conflicts. The legal perspectives examines the instruments that are meant to support the implementation of these energy options and the allocation of benefits, costs, and risks between technology suppliers, energy suppliers, energy consumers, and the public at large.

Together, these groups will look at the intersection of two important sets. This intersection comprises energy options that fulfill both the desirable characteristics of energy systems from an economic and legal perspective and the feasibility constraints imposed by the physical and geographical nature of the setting in which these systems are to be deployed. By focusing on energy options that combine the economically and legally desirable with the physically and geographically feasible, the resulting intersection will provide a view towards the set of meaningful energy options for the future. Few studies objectively assess the potential and side-effects of the different energy options both in terms of feasibility and desirability. Yet, in times of evolving climate and economic crises, it is crucial that well-informed, sustainable decisions in the energy sector are made. The project assesses the consequences and feasibility of important energy policy options using a global energy and market system model. Assessment will be made on the basis of both economic linkages between energy options through global markets and physical linkages through global environmental pathways. In contrast to existing research which is characterized by stand-alone disciplinary research, the project aims at the combination of an economic assessment of energy systems (economic efficiency) and natural science perspectives on energy technologies (physical efficiency) taking the critical linkages with land, water and non-renewable mineral resources systems into account. To this end, close interaction with the physical modeling activities is planned to assure that both economic and physical constraints are correctly accounted for in all models and scenarios.


7th April 2010: Joint meeting of research group II at Lahmeyer International GmbH, Bad Vilbel (with Dr. Wiese, Dipl. Ing. Schallenberg, Dr. Hoffmann and Dipl. Wirtsch.-Ing. Schreider).
Lahmeyer International is an internationally operating consultancy with a focus on planning and implementing projects in the energy sector, and also, faces its projects in a multi-disciplinary way. First objective of the meeting was to be introduced into the portfolio of the company's activities and services within the energy sector. Secondly, the research group's research projects were presented and discussed in-depth. We remained with a further invitation from Lahmeyer Intl. to present and discuss specific outcomes of the single projects. Further on, there might be a combined supervision of Diploma / Master theses for subprojects in the energy field and further exchange and feedback on the project activities. A future extension of these activities to research group I was also taken into consideration. All participants would like to thank Lahmeyer International for the interesting meeting and their hospitality.

5th May 2010: Members of research group II participated in the 8th workshop of the GEE-Student Chapter ("Gesellschaft für Energiewissenschaft und Energiepolitik", German section of the International Association for Energy Economics (IEAA)) at the Centre for European Economic Research (ZEW, Mannheim). They seized this opportunity to compare their own research efforts with different ongoing research projects in the energy field and establish contacts to and exchange experiences with other young academics in the energy field. Subthemes of this workshop were sectoral studies in the fields of oil production, photovoltaics and the transport sector, as well as emission trading and modelling aspects of energy systems. Discussions on the general development but especially modelling issues on national energy systems and the global energy system were of particular interest and relevance.

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Project 1:

Global change and the energy system: Assessing options and their impacts – the physical perspective.
Werner Aeschbach-Hertig , Ulrich Platt and Tobias Tröndle, Institute of Environmental Physics.

The world´s energy system faces two types of constraints: Availability constraints of finite resources and environmental constraints of resource use. The latter reflect the global environmental feedbacks of the energy system, in particular with regard to global climate change, land, and water issues. These environmental constraints will necessitate a quantitative and qualitative shift in the energy sector, one of the key parts of the global economy. It is crucial that this transformation process is guided by reliable and objective knowledge about the various options.
The aim of this project is to assess the environmental consequences and the physical feasibility of some options that are expected to play a major role in the future energy system. The issue shall be tackled from two sides: 1) A general, "global" view of the energy options and 2) Detailed studies of physical aspects of selected technologies. The first part relies on our general expertise in physics and environmental issues to judge different options as well as on a system-analytical approach. The second part will be based on particular expertise present in environmental physics, e.g. to study trace gas emissions or impacts on aquatic systems.
In part I, an overview of the options and their main physical characteristics (e.g., greenhouse gas emissions, resource requirements (land, water, raw materials), energy return on investment (EROI), theoretical potential, waste products, etc.) shall be obtained mainly from a literature review. This knowledge will be integrated in a simple dynamic physical energy system model, enabling the assessment of long-term consequences of different scenarios (e.g., projecting CO2 emissions or resource requirements of different options if implemented according to prescribed paths). The main goal of this analysis is to provide a quantitative foundation for the identification of the most promising options (as well as those bound to fail), at least from the perspective of physical feasibility and environmental impacts. In part II, some specific options shall be investigated in more detail, to assess critical but poorly known aspects. For example, plans exist to perform measurements of trace gas emissions related to tar sand exploitation in Canada. This example of an unconventional fossil fuel resource shall also be studied with respect to water impacts and energy efficiency, in order to obtain a better understanding of the environmental limitations of this technology. Another controversial option are biofuels, where issues such as greenhouse gas emissions, water requirements, and net energy gains shall be further investigated. Available expertise in atmospheric physics can be used to assess the potential of integrated systems of weatherdependent renewable energy sources (wind and solar). Interaction with the Marsilius project on geo-engineering is also to be expected (e.g., with regard to carbon capture and storage, albedo effects of certain technologies, etc.). Close interaction with economic modeling is planned to assure that both physical and economic constraints are correctly accounted for in all models and scenarios. Expertise from the Geosciences will be needed in order to assess questions related to geo-resources, geological CO2 storage, as well as spatial and geopolitical impacts of different energy options.

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Project 2:

Global change and the energy system: Assessing options and their impacts – the economic perspective.
Timo Goeschl and Ole Grogro, Research Centre for Environmental Economics.

A comprehensive assessment of a global energy system from an economical perspective has to comprise multiple costs and benefits of energy generation and usage. It has to account for the value of future energy consumption in an energy-relying world and for the various basic costs of production of this energy from different energy sources. But in addition to that, it also has to capture external costs of energy usage, such as environmental degradation, cover the finiteness of non-renewable energy resources and include the costs and benefits of aspects like security and reliability of energy supplies. The outcome of an economical assessment of possible global energy systems should then be able to determine which feasible mix of energy sources is affordable and efficient, while also meeting the various energy related desires of society. To this end an economic model will be constructed in order determine efficient mixtures of energy options and their coherent necessary investments within the energy sector.
Constraints within the economic modelling will be imposed by capacity restrictions in different energy producing industries and through other physical constraints, which will be brought up and refined in discussions with physicists and geographers. However, economical constraints like market structures or investment incentives within the different fields of the energy sector will also play a crucial role in determining the future development of a future global energy supply structure. The model will thus represent the economic connections within the global energy market and serve as a tool to evaluate different energy options and scenarios. With an additional exploitation of the vast existent economic literature on energy markets, the economic assessment will be able to depict different possible technological options, also considering the aspects of their spatial distribution, with regard to their economic efficiency. Implementability of determined economically desirable global energy options will then again have to be discussed with physicists, geographers and lawyers from the research group.


29th May to 4th June 2010: Report of attendance of Shanghai Forum 2010 and establishment of cooperation with the Centre for Energy Economics and Strategy Studies (CEES), Fudan University, Shanghai.

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Project 3:

Global change and the energy system: Assessing options and their impacts – the geographical perspective.
Hans Gebhardt and Thomas Bonn, Institute of Geography.

The yields and revenues of different sources of renewable energy such as solar energy, wind energy or geothermal energy are very much dependent on the accordant climate zones and other physical patterns of different locations. Beside this technical approach of harnessing renewable energy, other decisive factors that determine the effective feasibility of extensive facilities and networks of energy transport and distribution have to be taken into account as well: Geopolitical relationships, conflicts and certain social structures. The feasibility of megaprojects in renewable energy contains a technical and a social sphere – both have to be analyzed and considered. Following tasks will be carried out and resolved:

  1. Analysis of different options of renewable energy strategies in the context of different climatic and geographic factors (solar radiation, average wind speed, mean temperature and precipitation, available area, etc.) in the different climate zones on the earth.

  2. Assessment of the geopolitical context and the conflict situation within the different nation states that come into consideration for energy projects. For this purpose information of the CONIS data base of the Department of Political Science at the University of Heidelberg and the results of the frontier project "Geographical dimensions of political conflicts" can be utilized and implemented. This study contains a wide set of cultural, social, political and historical topics that have to be taken into account to achieve a complete overview and understanding of complex interrelations.

  3. Development of empirical case studies on the situation in the Middle East and North Africa.

  4. Summary of the gathered information and the analysis to a model. This will contribute to answer the question how to implement different renewable energy options in secure or insecure regions of the world.

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Project 4:

Global change and the energy system: Assessing options and their impacts – the legal perspective.
Wolfgang Kahl and Philip Stomberg, Institute for German and European Administrative Law.

The world has entered a new age of energy. This age is marked by a tension between the global cooperation in the interest of international solidarity and security on the one side (concept of "Global Energy Governance") and traditional structures of national sovereignty and security of supply on the other side (concept of &lsquoNational State"). Europeanization and Globalization have led to a network between public and private actors and to the development of a multi-level system in the energy sector. Legal control is working less and less hierarchically. Instead informal and cooperative structures and "soft" instruments are used more and more. Especially the importance of the EU as a global player in the field of energy politics continuously increased in the last years. The EU tries more and more often to speak "with one voice" in order to strengthen the weight of its interests and of the interests of its people in international negotiations. In its functions as a "Energy Union" and as a "Environmental Union" the EU is confronted with huge challenges at the beginning of the 21st century: Urgent need of investment, high dependence on imports, increasing global need of energy, high and fluctuating energy costs, security risks for countries of origin and transit, lack of a internal market for energy, that is sufficiently marked by undistorted competition and last, but not least, mitigation of global warming (climate change). The solution the EU has found to cope with these challenges is aimed at an integrated climate and energy policy, consisting of three objectives:

  • Sustainability respctively environmental compatibility of energy supply,
  • competitiveness, and
  • security of energy supply.

The project aims at describing, bringing into a system and evaluating the legal framework that results from the process of Europeanization and internationalization (globalization) on the energy sector for the different states (esp. the Federal Republic of Germany). This means the first of all the European and international "network of energy" and the legal determinations resulting from the latter shall be explained. Furthermore, the question which legal options remain for the states in choosing between different energy policies shall be considered. This way the political energy options that turn out to be possible and desirable from a physical, geographical and economical point of view can be checked for their legal feasibility. Moreover, the suitable level of political action for the realization of certain energy options can be identified as well.
In part one dealing with the basics of the project the objective of an integrated climate and energy policy shall be presented and put in relation to the principle of sustainability. This includes the illustration of conflicting (economical and environmental) objectives. Moreover, the actors of a "European Governance" or rather a "Global Governance" on the energy sector and their respective competences shall be explained. Out of this the picture of an energy policy, basically still rooted in the national law, will develop. However, it will also have to be emphasized, that this policy is marked by rising supranational and international overlay and interdependence, permanently reducing the scope of action of the national state.
Part two shall contain an overview and an evaluation of the legal framework in a multi-levelperspective for the following energy options:

  • Fossil energy system (oil, coal, natural gas, including "Carbon Capture and Storage – CCS"),
  • atomic energy system, and
  • regenerative energy system/electricity from renewable sources, e.g. water, geothermicx, wind, solar, and biofuel.

To reach this aim the rules in international law, European law, constitutional law and domestic statute law restricting or directing political decisions between different energy systems will be looked at.
In part three the energy system(s) that &ndash as the result of part two &ndash has (have) turned out to be the best feasible and most desirable option(s) or partial option(s) – including the option of a "mixed solution" respectively a "combination model" – will be analysed more closely and in depth.

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