A data-driven dynamic net-energy analysis of global and national sustainable energy transition paths

  • Denes Csala

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


This dissertation offers a comprehensive methodology for engineering sustainable energy transitions on global and national scales. It presents the results of the first, net-energy based model that can generate dynamic global and national sustainable energy transition paths, i.e. time series of energy generation capacity installation rates for all renewable energy sources, phase-out profiles for fossil fuels, as well as bidirectional flows of energy trade, for the period 2015-2100, under various societal energy demand assumptions. These paths comply by design with the greenhouse gas emissions limits put forward by the International Panel on Climate Change in their RCP2.6 global warming scenario, equivalent to a 66% confidence of limiting global warming to 2 degrees Celsius compared to preindustrial era (1850) levels – currently the accepted upper limit to avoid catastrophic change to human life on Earth. Our energy-based results provide an alternative to existing economic, costdriven models and analyses – collectively referred to as integrated assessment models – as we highlight that energy replacement curves of historical energy transitions do not follow the substitution laws of these models. First, we develop a mathematical framework and a differential equation-based, recursive, numerical model for the topdown calculation of global sustainable energy transition paths, followed by a bottomup calculation of regional and/or national paths. We place national energy systems into a dynamic global trade network of all energy carriers and taking into account the energy trade history of country-pairs, we construct an influence matrix. We solve the energy allocation problem in the trade network year-to-year, by differentiating countries based on their trade influence, their physical resource distribution and an energy security parameter. After adjusting for storage, we calculate the investment obtained through the bottom-up up model and contrast the results with the global case. We find that while a scale-up of at least an order magnitude in renewable energy investment is needed for a successful global transition and the trade balances and importer-exporter roles of some countries might change significantly in the cases of national transitions, a successful transition is within reach for all countries, dependent on careful planning. Finally, we develop an interactive data visualization to facilitate the easy exploration of the simulation data. The outcome of this research can help nations plan their energy transitions well ahead – in terms of tangible renewable energy deployment targets, infrastructure expansions and energy investment rates via an easy-to-use online interface – as early action has been proven to be very critical for meeting the planetary climate target.
Date of AwardDec 2016
Original languageAmerican English
SupervisorSgouris Sgouridis (Supervisor)


  • Global and National Sustainable Energy transitions
  • Kaya Identity
  • renewable energy.

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