Top 10Publicationsof 2019

This selection of the ten most important peer-reviewed scientific publications of the Wuppertal Institute in 2019 provides an insight into the current international recognised research activities in the context of sustainability transformations.

Modeling and transdisciplinary methods

Bickel, M. W.:
Reflecting trends in the academic landscape of sustainable energy using probabilistic topic modeling

In: Energy, Sustainability and Society 9 (2019), 49

Facing planetary boundaries, we need a sustainable energy system providing its life support function for society in the long-term within environmental limits. Since science plays an important role in decision-making, this study examines the thematic landscape of research on sustainable energy, which may contribute to a sustainability transformation. Understanding the structure of the research field allows for critical reflections and the identification of blind spots for advancing this field. The study applies a text mining approach on 26,533 Scopus-indexed abstracts published from 1990 to 2016 based on a latent Dirichlet allocation topic model. Models with up 1,100 topics were created. Based on coherence scores and manual inspection, the model with 300 topics was selected. To analyse how the field of sustainable energy research is being explored, Manuel Bickel from the Sustainable Production and Consumption Division has applied a text mining approach to over 2,500 Scopus-induced abstracts. This statistical method is used to highlight current thematic trends, different thematic fields and emerging communities in the thematic network. The quantitative results were critically reflected from a sustainability perspective.
The study identifies a focus on establishing and optimising the energy infrastructure towards 100% renewable energies through key modern technology areas: materials science, (biological) process engineering, and (digital) monitoring and control systems. Energy storage, photonic materials, nanomaterials, or biofuels belong to the topics with the strongest trends. The study identifies decreasing trends for general aspects regarding sustainable development and related economic, environmental, and political issues.

Terrapon-Pfaff, J.; Fink, T.; Viebahn, P.; Jamea, E. M.:
Social impacts of large-scale solar thermal power plants – assessment results for the NOORo I power plant in Morocco

In: Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews 113 (2019), 109259

Many countries are increasingly investing in renewable energy technologies to meet growing energy demands and increase the security of their energy supply. This development is also evident in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, where renewable energy targets and policies have evolved rapidly in recent years. There is a steady increase in both the number of planned and implemented solar photovoltaic (PV) but also of solar thermal projects in form of Concentrating Solar Power (CSP) plants. Many of these installations are designed as large utility-scale systems. Despite the fact that these types of large-scale projects can have significant effects on local communities and their livelihoods, the existing research into the social impacts of such large-scale renewable energy infrastructures at local level is limited. However, assessing and managing these impacts is becoming increasingly important to reduce risks to both the affected communities and to the project and businesses activities. In order to provide more robust evidence on the local effects, this research study reviews the social impacts of large-scale renewable energy infrastructure in the MENA region based on a case study of the NOORo I CSP plant in Ouarzazate, Morocco. Data collected during two empirical field studies, in combination with expert interviews and secondary data analysis, provides detailed evidence on the type and significance of livelihood impacts of the NOORo I CSP plant. The analysis results in a consolidated list of 30 impacts and their significance levels for different stakeholder groups including farmers, young people, women, community representatives and owners of small and medium enterprises. The results show that, overall, the infrastructure development was received positively. This review also indicates that factors identified as having effects on the sustainability of local livelihoods are mainly related to information management and benefit distribution, rather than physical or material aspects.

Teubler, J.; Weber, S.; Suski, P.; Peschke, I.; Liedtke, C.:
Critical evaluation of the material characteristics and environmental potential of laser beam melting processes for the additive manufacturing of metallic components

In: Journal of Cleaner Production 237 (2019), 117775

Nowadays, the main impetus to apply additive manufacturing of metals is the high geometric flexibility of the processes and its ability to produce pilot or small batch series. In contrast, resource and energy intensities are often not considered as constraints, even though the turnout of additive manufacturing is high, at least compared to chip removing processes. The study at hand analyses the material characteristics and environmental impacts of a hose nozzle as an example of a commercial product of simple geometry. The production routes turning (conventional manufacturing) and laser beam melting (additive manufacturing) are compared to each other in terms of natural resource use, climate change potential and primary energy demand. It is found, that the product shows a lower demand for natural resources when produced via AM, but higher carbon emissions and energy demand when using a steel, that is mainly (80%) produced from high-alloyed steel scrap. However, different case studies during the sensitivity analyses showed that a number of factors highly influence the results: the steel source as well as the source of electricity play a major role in determining the environmental performance of the production routes. The authors also found that other production processes (here cold forging of tubes) might be an eco-friendly alternative to both routes, if feasible from an economic point of view. In regard to the material characteristics, experimental testing revealed that the material advantages of AM produced hose nozzles (in particular higher yield strength) are reduced after a solution heat treatment is applied to the as-produced material, in order to increase corrosion resistance. However, products that do not require this production step might benefit from the higher yield strength, as a lower wall thickness could be realised.

Zelt, O.; Krüger, C.; Blohm, M.; Bohm, S.; Far, S.:
Long-term electricity scenarios for the MENA region – assessing the preferences of local stakeholders using multi-criteria analyses

In: Energies 12 (2019), 3046

In recent years, most countries in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), including Jordan, Morocco and Tunisia, have rolled out national policies with the goal of decarbonising their economies. Energy policy goals in these countries have been characterised by expanding the deployment of renewable energy technologies in the electricity mix in the medium term (i.e., until 2030). This tacitly signals a transformation of socio-technical systems by 2030 and beyond. Nevertheless, how these policy objectives actually translate into future scenarios that can also take into account a long-term perspective up to 2050 and correspond to local preferences remains largely understudied. This paper aims to fill this gap by identifying the most widely preferred long-term electricity scenarios for Jordan, Morocco and Tunisia. During a series of two-day workshops (one in each country), the research team, along with local stakeholders, adopted a participatory approach to develop multiple 2050 electricity scenarios, which enabled electricity pathways to be modelled using Renewable Energy Pathway Simulation System GIS (renpassG!S). We subsequently used the Analytical Hierarchy Process (AHP) within a Multi-Criteria Analysis (MCA) to capture local preferences. The empirical findings show that local stakeholders in all three countries preferred electricity scenarios mainly or even exclusively based on renewables. The findings demonstrate a clear preference for renewable energies and show that useful insights can be generated using participatory approaches to energy planning.


Climate-, Energy- and Resources Transition

Hermwille, L.; Sanderink, L.:
Make fossil fuels great again? The Paris Agreement, Trump, and the US fossil fuel industry

In: Global Environmental Politics 19 (2019), pp. 45–62

Theoretical advances suggest that international governance in general and the Paris Agreement in particular provide a strong signal guiding sociotechnical systems toward decarbonization. We assess this signal and its effects empirically, by examining the struggle of competing narratives as present in the communications of leading US fossil fuel industry associations and companies. The results are then discussed in the context of the national and international climate and energy policy debates in a study period from late 2014 until the announcement of withdrawal from the Paris Agreement in June 2017. We find that the Paris Agreement has institutionalised a narrative paradigm that is surprisingly resilient. While the election of Donald Trump and his climate and energy policy led to a narrative shift in the coal industry, the oil and gas industry remained conspicuously silent in its immediate response and maintained its narrative strategies despite its alignment with the Paris Agreement.

Michaelowa, A.; Hermwille, L.; Obergassel, W.; Butzengeiger, S.:
Additionality revisited: guarding the integrity of market mechanisms under the Paris Agreement

In: Climate Policy 19 (2019), pp. 1211–1224

The paper by Axel Michaelowa and Sonja Butzengeiger from Perspectives Climate Research and Lukas Hermwille and Wolfgang Obergassel from the Research Unit Global Climate Governance in the Energy, Transport and Climate Policy Division at the Wuppertal Institute provides recommendations on how to operationalise additionality under Article 6 of the Paris Agreement. Article 6 enables Parties to cooperate in the implementation of their Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) and transfer emission reductions among themselves. While such market-based mechanisms can be effective mitigation instruments, they can also threaten the integrity and efficacy of global climate action if used inappropriately. Additionality is a key concept in this regard. In a nutshell, the concept requires any mitigation activity that is considered for a market-based mechanism to demonstrate that the corresponding emission reductions would not have happened in the absence of the support from the market-based mechanism.
The paper in Climate Policy first reviews generic definitions of additionality and current approaches for testing of additionality before discussing under which conditions additionality testing of specific activities or policies is still necessary under the new context of the Paris Agreement. In addition, the paper explores how additionality testing could be designed for different types of activities. The article recommends to pursue different approaches of additionality testing for different types of activities, namely projects, programmes and different types of policies.

Mohan, A.; Wehnert, T.:
Is India pulling its weight? India's nationally determined contribution and future energy plans in global climate policy

In: Climate Policy 19 (2019), pp. 275–282

Ahead of the Conference of Parties 24 (COP24) where countries will first take stock of climate action post Paris, this paper assesses India's progress on its nationally determined contribution (NDC) targets and future energy plans. We find that, although India is well on track to meet its NDC pledges, these targets were extremely modest given previous context. Furthermore, there is considerable uncertainty around India's energy policy post 2030 and if current plans for energy futures materialise, the Paris Agreement's 2 degrees goal will be almost certainly unachievable. India's role in international climate politics has shifted from obstructionism to leadership particularly following the announcement of withdrawal by the United States from the Paris Agreement, but analysis reveals that India's ‚hard’ actions on the domestic front are inconsistent with its "soft" actions in the international climate policy arena. Going forward, India is likely to face increasing calls for stronger mitigation action, and we suggest that this gap can be bridged by strengthening the links between India's foreign policy ambitions, international climate commitments, and domestic energy realities.

Thomas, S.; Thema, J.; Brischke, L.-A.; Leuser, L.; Kopatz, M.; Spitzner, M.:
Energy sufficiency policy for residential electricity use and per-capita dwelling size

In: Energy Efficiency 12 (2019), pp. 1123–1149

Energy sufficiency has recently gained increasing attention as a way to limit and reduce total energy consumption of households and overall. This paper presents both the partly new methods and the results of a comprehensive analysis of a micro- and meso-level energy sufficiency policy package to make electricity use in the home more sufficient and reduce at least the growth in per-capita dwelling size. The objective is to find out how policy can support households and their members, as individuals or as caregivers, but also manufacturers and local authorities in practising energy sufficiency. This analysis needed an adapted and partly new set of methods we developed. Energy sufficiency does not only face barriers like energy efficiency, but also potential restrictions for certain household members or characteristics, and sometimes, preconditions have to be met to make more energy-sufficient routines and practices possible. All of this was analysed in detail to derive recommendations for which policy instruments need to be combined to an effective policy package for energy sufficiency. Energy efficiency and energy sufficiency should not be seen as opposed to each other but work in the same direction - saving energy. Therefore, some energy sufficiency policy instruments may be the same as for energy efficiency, such as energy pricing policies. Some may simply adapt technology-specific energy efficiency policy instruments. Examples include progressive appliance efficiency standards, standards based on absolute consumption, or providing energy advice. However, sufficiency may also require new policy approaches. They may range from promotion of completely different services for food and clothes cleaning, to instruments for limiting average dwelling floor area per person, or to a cap-and-trade system for the total electricity sales of a supplier to its customers, instead of an energy efficiency obligation.

Weigel, P.; Fischedick, M.:
Review and categorization of digital applications in the energy sector

In: Applied Sciences 9 (2019), 5350

Digitalisation is a transformation process which has already affected many parts of industry and society and is expected to yet increase its transformative speed and impact. In the energy sector, many digital applications have already been implemented. However, a more drastic change is expected during the next decades. Good understanding of which digital applications are possible and what are the associated benefits as well as risks from the different perspectives of the impacted stakeholders is of high importance. On the one hand, it is the basis for a broad societal and political discussion about general targets and guidelines of digitalisation. On the other hand, it is an important piece of information for companies in order to develop and sustainably implement digital applications. This article provides a structured overview of potential digital applications in the German energy (electricity) sector, including the associated benefits and the impacted stakeholders on the basis of a literature review. Furthermore, as an outlook, a methodology to holistically analyse digital applications is suggested. The intended purpose of the suggested methodology is to provide a complexity-reduced fact base as input for societal and political discussions and for the development of new digital products, services, or business models. While the methodology is outlined in this article, in a follow-up article the application of the methodology will be presented and the use of the approach reflected.

Wilts, H.; O'Brien, M.:
A policy mix for resource efficiency in the EU – key instruments, challenges and research needs

In: Ecological Economics 155 (2019), pp. 59–69

Against the background of an often wasteful use of natural resources, the European Union has made resource efficiency a top policy priority. Policy formulation is, however, at a very early stage in many Member States, with often vague notions of what resource efficiency means, characterised by fragmented instruments and overlapping competencies. This paper develops a conceptual framework for defining, assessing and developing resource efficiency policy mixes. It argues that a mix of policies and instruments is best suited to overcoming the complex challenges of the 21st Century. Such a mix addresses multiple resource domains at a strategic, high level and contains interacting instruments targeting multiple actors, levels of governance and sectors and life-cycle stages of resource use. This paper looks at criteria for effective resource efficiency policy instruments, presents both an indicative policy mix across 9 policy domains and case studies (on environmental harmful subsidies, supply chain efficiency in food systems and product-service systems) and identifies key challenges to overcome trade-offs in instrument design, maximise synergies, reduce conflicts, promote coherence, coordinate activities and move from theory to practice. Research needs are discussed regarding who shall devise, implement, and coordinate such a policy mix, considering negotiating power, timing and complexity.


Further Top Ten

The annual selection of important scientific publications is available here for the following years: