(C) Caique Silva, Unsplash
Modelling and Assessment

Modelling Tool // An Alternative to Market-Oriented Energy Models: Nexus Patterns across hierarchical Levels

By Louisa Jane Di Felice, Maddalena Ripa and Mario Giampietro. Energy is entangled with nexus elements, including water, land, emissions and labour. At the science-policy interface, large market-oriented energy models dominate as the tool to inform decision-making. The outputs of these models are used to shape policies, but strongly depend on sets of assumptions that are not available for deliberation and gloss over uncertainties. Taking an approach from complexity, the authors propose an alternative to market-oriented energy models, describing the behaviour of energy systems in relation to patterns of nexus elements across hierarchical levels.

Three characteristics are central to the approach:

  1. the distinction of the model's building blocks into functional and structural elements;
  2. their hierarchical organisation and
  3. the description of nexus patterns at each level, through the tool of the processor

To illustrate the model, it is applied to Catalonia's energy sector, linking production and consumption patterns. The framework may help inform stakeholder deliberation on pressing energy and nexus issues. The hierarchical mapping from primary energy sources, to the technologies harnessing them, to their function in society may help in guiding discussions of energy futures.

The energy model introduced in this paper proposes a technique to choose appropriate levels of aggregation in the complex energy system, based on the grouping of structural elements into functional ones. In this way, the hierarchical organisation of energy systems is used to simplify their representation and their relation to other nexus elements, while avoiding an excessive loss of relevant information. The strength of the model lies across two domains:

  1. The first is in the domain of energetics, contributing to a shift in the field towards inter-disciplinarity, by describing functional elements of the energy system through nexus patterns
  2. Secondly, at the science-policy interface, the model may be used as a heuristic tool to inform decision-making, moving away from a paradigm of science speaking truth to power, and towards the co-production of knowledge among scientists, policy-makers and other stakeholders.


Science Direct (open access)


January 2019


Science Direct, Energy Policy, Volume 126, Pages 431-443

Further Reading

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Modelling and Assessment

Publication // Sustainability Indicators and Indices for the Water-Energy-Food Nexus for Performance Assessment: WEF Nexus in Practice – South Africa Case Study

By Nhamo, L., Mabhaudhi, T., Mpandeli, S., Nhemachena, C., Senzanje, A., Naidoo, D., Liphadzi, S. & Modi, A. T. (2019). This paper develops a methodology for indices able to display WEF Nexus performance, monitoring and evaluation, using South Africa as an example.

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Fact Sheets

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Fact Sheets

Nexus Fact Sheet // Frexus: Improving security and climate resilience in a fragile context through the Water-Energy-Food Security Nexus

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