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Sustainable energy transitions in Austria: a participatory multi-criteria appraisal of scenarios

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posted on 2023-06-08, 11:55 authored by Katharina Kowalski
In the light of advancing climate change and the anticipated scarcity of affordable fossil fuels, a transition towards more sustainable energy systems is vital to allow for the long-term sustainability of human wellbeing. Energy is a key sustainability issue, at the heart of the complex interactions of socioeconomic and biophysical systems. The overall aim of this study is to contribute to furthering the understanding of these systems interactions. It intends to deliver methodological insights on how to identify and appraise favourable energy futures in a changing and uncertain world. In order to cope with the complexity and uncertainty of future developments and with the plethora of partly contradictory social preferences, a participatory approach was combined with scenario development and the application of an appraisal tool that takes account of the multidimensionality of system interlinkages. In a case study for Austria, favourable renewable energy scenarios were developed in a participatory setting, involving key Austrian energy stakeholders. The scenario development consisted of two stages: first an exploratory stage with stakeholder engagement and second a modelling stage generating forecasting-type scenarios. Accordingly, the scenarios consist of a narrative part, the storyline, and a modelled, quantitative part. The application of Multi-Criteria Analysis (MCA) allowed the integration of multi-dimensional sustainability information (social, environmental, economic, and technological criteria) and the social preferences of the stakeholders into the appraisal of the energy scenarios. In the case study presented, five renewable energy scenarios for Austria for 2020 were compared against 17 sustainability criteria. The study illustrates how the combined use of participatory scenario building techniques and MCA acknowledges and integrates inherent complexity, irreducible uncertainty, multi-dimensionality, and, a multiplicity of legitimate perspectives in the appraisal. The main empirical result of the sustainability appraisal undertaken shows that, contrary to the current energy policy in Austria, a profoundly decentralised energy system (scenario E) and an innovative long-term investment strategy (scenario C) rank highest, whereas the renewable strategy based on biomass (scenario D), which represents the dominant political trajectory in Austria’s renewable energy policy, ranks very low. The research demonstrates the integration of biophysical, social, economic, and, technological appraisal criteria, presents and discusses best practice criteria, and, illustrates the challenges and opportunities to incorporate bio-physical aspects into the concept of sociotechnical systems and their transitions in the light of a more sustainable development.


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  • SPRU - Science Policy Research Unit Theses

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  • doctoral

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University of Sussex

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