This paper is the second in a series which aims to provide insights into the use of scenarios for informing low carbon energy policy. Building on insights from a historical overview of strategic scenario planning in the first working paper of the series (Hughes, 2009), this paper reviews selected recent UK and international low carbon energy scenarios, analyses their strengths and weaknesses, and offers some suggestions for improving the strategic power of future UK low carbon energy scenarios.
This paper adopts the broad characterisation proposed in Hughes (2009), that scenario thinking is the use of the imagination to consider possible alternative future situations, as they may evolve from the present, with a view to improving immediate and near-term decision making. The three key objectives of scenario thinking identified in Hughes (2009), improving protective decision making, improving proactive decision making, and consensus building, are also highlighted.
The paper notes that from the approaches and methodologies outlined in Hughes (2009), two approaches in particular have been strongly drawn upon in the construction of low carbon energy scenarios. The first is the derivation of broadly consistent future scenarios from 'high level trends', sometimes represented within a '2x2 matrix'. The second is the concept of 'backcasting' from a normatively constructed future end point. This observation informs a three-fold typology for reviewing the low carbon energy scenarios in this paper:
- Trend driven studies: developed around high level trends
- Technical feasibility studies: demonstrate technical feasibility of end points, sometimes 'backcasting' from them
- Modelling studies: complex quantitative models are used to generate results, often operating within exogenous emission constraints