Mother Pelican
A Journal of Sustainable Human Development

Vol. 7, No. 8, August 2011
Luis T. Gutiérrez, Editor
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Simulating Energy Transitions

Emile Chappin
Faculty of Technology, Policy and Management
Delft University of Technology - The Netherlands

This article is based on the author's Ph.D. dissertation, Simulating Energy Transitions, 16 June 2011, and the
TU Delft press release, TU Delft simulation models offer clarity with regard to energy transition decisions, 17 June 2011.


"Energy infrastructures are the backbone of society, fundamental for many of our daily activities. For energy infrastructures (systems that satisfy needs for energy) environmental, economic, and social sustainability are vital. Therefore, we have to address issues such as scarcity and the depletion of resources, accessibility, affordability, reliability and quality of energy services, and security of energy supply. It is widely acknowledged that we have to change our energy infrastructure systems during the 21st century in order to deal with these issues, for instance through the massive introduction of renewable energy technologies and by reduction of energy use. Core to this thesis is to explore simulation models as a tool for ex-ante assessment of actions proposed to bring about structural change in our energy infrastructures and achieve a transition." Simulating Energy Transitions, Page 1

As a way of eliminating energy-guzzling incandescent light bulbs from our supermarket shelves, a tax on incandescent light bulbs would be just as effective as an outright ban. Subsidising new technology, such as Led lighting, could actually reduce its sales, as this can lead to a relatively large number of people buying a light with teething problems, giving the new technology a bad name.

These results emerged from the simulation models which PhD student Emile Chappin of Delft University of Technology developed in relation to energy transition. Chappin obtained his doctorate from TU Delft on 16 June. His most important conclusion is that the energy transition process can be controlled and simulation models can provide insight into the possible consequences of choices made by the government, businesses and consumers.


Where our energy will come from in the future will depend, among other things, on governments, businesses and consumers. "Energy systems develop on the basis of technical progress, but also on the basis of government policy instruments, business investments and consumer behaviour. These also influence each other", explains Emile Chapin, PhD candidate at the Faculty of Technology, Policy and Management. What are the consequences of closing the nuclear power stations in Germany? More coal-fired power stations? Capture and storage of CO2? During his doctoral research, Chappin developed so-called 'agent-based' simulation models which use knowledge of how people make decisions to provide insight into the short-term and long-term consequences of those decisions.  

Fewer sales due to subsidisation

The following diagram shows the scope of Chappin's socio-technological system model:

Energy infrastructures as socio-technical systems
Simulating Energy Transitions, Emile Chappin, Delft University, 16 June 2011, Figure 1.2, page 3.

One of Chappin's simulation models reveals that levying a CO2 tax would be a considerably cheaper and more effective incentive for reducing CO2 emissions by European companies than the current European system of trading emission rights. Chappin draws this conclusion on the basis of decisions such as those made by investors and energy companies. Investors benefit more from a fixed CO2 price than a flexible one, and energy companies opt for low cost of coal in the long term. On the basis of these results, Chappin came up with suggestions to improve the current system, for example introducing a minimum price on the CO2 market and levying an additional CO2 tax.  

chappin-thesis-figure4.13A-page110 chappin-thesis-figure4.13B-page110
Electricity and CO2 prices and CO2 emission levels for three carbon policies
Simulating Energy Transitions, Emile Chappin, Delft University, 16 June 2011, Figures 4.13a and 4.13b, page 110.

Chappin also fed his model with knowledge of consumer buying behaviour with regard to energy-efficient lighting. This revealed that in the slightly longer term, less Led lighting was purchased if this was subsidised in the initial phase. Because of the subsidy, a relatively large number of people bought the first generation of Led lights. The teething problems generated a negative image, as a result of which sales fell even though the technology later improved.

Chappin's simulation models offer politicians, policy officers, companies, engineers and consumers insight into the consequences their choices may have for the energy transition. To make the computer models comprehensible and easily usable, Chappin and his colleague researcher Laurens de Vries developed the Energy Market Game; an online game for policy officers wanting to test the effects of their policy choices, for example. Chappin: "I hope that with these models and the game I can make a meaningful contribution to the choices we must make, as a country, to ensure we still have sufficient, affordable, clean energy in the future."

About the author: Emile Chappin earned a Ph.D. at the Faculty of Technology Policy and Management, Delft University of Technology, The Netherlands, 16 June 2011, and is currently a Postdoc at the same university. In his life, piano, composing, arrangements, poetry, percussion, improvisation, jazz and musical play a big role. For more on this author, visit the Emile Chappin web site.

To download the complete text of Simulating Energy Transitions, click here.

For more information about simulating energy transitions, contact Emile Chappin, Faculty of Technology, Policy and Management, TU Delft,

For more information on the Energy Market Game, click here.

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