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An Open Modeling Approach to Support Energy and Climate Policy

This story first appeared on NC State News on July 31, 2019. Written by Matt Shipman

One of the keys to addressing climate change is finding ways to reduce greenhouse emissions across the whole energy system. Policy solutions are complicated, and existing models aimed at helping governments make informed decisions are often flawed.

Despite the complexity of the energy system and future unknowns, many existing modeling efforts use closed models, making it impossible to see how they are reaching their conclusions. At the same time, these existing models explore only a limited range of future possibilities. So researchers are now launching an initiative to apply an open source model that can be used to inform future policy development.

“The U.S. needs to pursue deep decarbonization – making drastic cuts in greenhouse gas emissions – in order to mitigate the worst effects of climate change,” says Joe DeCarolis, an associate professor of environmental engineering at NC State and co-principal investigator (co-PI) of the open source modeling project. “Computer models of the energy system can help us test the effects of proposed policy. But many of the existing models are opaque to outsiders and aren’t necessarily designed to address the range of scenarios that would be most useful.

“The goal of our project is to examine deep decarbonization pathways and policies for the United States,” DeCarolis says. “The model will be developed with input from a team of academics with deep expertise in energy systems and policy, and will also seek feedback from the broader community of modelers, analysts, and planners. What’s more, all of the model code and data developed under this project will be publicly accessible for all to use.”

The project is being done with support from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. DeCarolis’s co-PI on the project is Paulina Jaramillo of Carnegie Mellon University.

“We’re in the early stages of this initiative, but we intend for this to be a community effort,” DeCarolis says. “We’ll be seeking feedback along the way from other energy modelers and analysts.

“By taking an open approach, we hope to advance the discussion and analysis of climate policy in the United States.”