Calgary researchers say new approach needed for charting Canada's energy future
National energy strategy must be built on science-based decision making, not advocacy
A successful national energy strategy will require systematic, science-based decision making – not promoting specific energy projects or types of energies, say researchers building a ‘toolkit’ for developing such a strategy in Canada.
“It is not about advocating energy transportation options, such as oil and gas pipelines,” the researchers say in a new paper whose lead author is Joseph Arvai, the Svare Chair in Applied Decision Research at the Institute for Sustainable Energy, Environment and Economy (ISEEE) at the University of Calgary.
Rather, a national energy strategy is about developing “a framework that will guide comprehensive and logical discussions about energy development and delivery,” Arvai and three co-authors – including two others from the University of Calgary – say in their paper, published in the summer edition of the journal Issues in Science and Technology.
Arvai is an internationally recognized expert in the decision sciences. He is also a member of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Science Advisory Board and the U.S. National Academy of Sciences’ Board on Environmental Change and Society.
Creating a decision-support system for a national energy strategy is more complex and requires a different type of process than the public hearings used for major energy projects, such as the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline from Alberta’s oil sands to B.C.’s West Coast, the researchers say in their paper.
It is not about building infrastructure for renewable energy sources, providing subsidies for ethanol producers, setting a price on carbon emissions, or advancing energy efficiency standards or carbon capture and storage technologies, they say. “Instead, [a national energy strategy] is a process for organizing analyses, encouraging deliberations, and making decisions in a scientifically rigorous, transparent and defensible manner.”
The kinds of off-the-shelf decision-making processes that typically would be used to develop a national energy strategy are prone to shortcuts, error and bias, the researchers show.
An energy strategy – like an effective financial investment strategy – “should inform choices about the desired level of investment in each element of an energy portfolio,” they say. This includes where investments should be made geographically, and the “tipping points” that will trigger the reallocation of funds and attention from one energy resource to another over time.
In developing a national energy strategy, “Failing to make strides in the science and application of decision support approaches for energy development choices would be as foolish as continuing to rely on kerosene to illuminate the nation’s streets and homes,” Arvai says.
As an example of how decision support science can inform an energy strategy, Arvai and some of his colleagues developed and tested a regional “energy system model” for crafting an energy strategy for Michigan State University, which has the largest on-campus coal-burning power plant in the U.S.
A scaled-down version of this decision support system is on display at the Marian Koshland Science Museum of the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, D.C.
“It can be used by museum visitors of all ages and all levels of education to simulate the creation of a national-level energy strategy in the United States,” Arvai says.
The researchers are currently creating an upgraded version of the regional system for use in developing a national energy strategy in Canada, he says.
Arvai’s co-authors on the paper are: Robin Gregory, a senior researcher at Decision Research and director of Value Scope Research, a consulting firm; Douglas Bessette, a PhD student at ISEEE; and Victoria Campbell-Arvai, a research associate at ISEEE.