APPLYING SYSTEM DYNAMICS IN THE ENERGY SECTOR
A Pedagogical Approach Using the 2050 Calculators for Climate Change Mitigation
Keywords:system dynamics, 2050 Calculator, active methodologies
The use of active methodologies, case studies and problem-based learning (PBL) can play a major role in critical pedagogy. This includes the use of system dynamics, which is a modelling approach based on variations of stocks and flows, and feedback loops. System dynamics can be applied in several areas, such as in energy and environmental education. We carried out a practical approach with a group of students from the Graduate Program in Energy (PPGE) at the University of Sao Paulo (USP), with the aim at introducing the use integrated modeling techniques for a low carbon transition. The course was jointly lectured by the authors, involving 19 students in total from 2021 to 2022, via distance learning.
The methodology was based on the 2050 Calculators and builds on previous publications and experiences of the second author while teaching at Imperial College London and IFP School. The calculators are system dynamics models for energy, land use, and carbon dynamics, aimed at simulating climate change mitigation pathways by 2050. The tools are available online and in fullly open access for several nations and regions, including a global version. They were used as a didactic tool for elaborating carbon mitigation scenarios and reflecting on energy policy strategies. The students were expected to understand the structure and segmentation of the different sectors that comprise a national energy system, including the definition of key variables and main assumptions involved in the models.
The first part of the course focused on sharing knowledge on energy and carbon dynamics, definitions of scenarios, choice of technologies, and analysis of public policies. Supporting publications on energy and carbon modeling were also provided, including documents prepared by the Brazil’s Ministry of Science, Technology, and Innovation (MCTI), in collaboration with the UN Environment and the Global Environment Facility (GEF). In the second part of the course, the 2050 Calculators were interactively demonstrated to the students, who were then divided into five groups for subsequent activities. Each group was asked to assess a country-level calculator, develop some scenarios, and compare them with the respective Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) of the chosen country, identifying the main goals and implementation challenges. The selected countries were Australia, Colombia, India, Nigeria, and United Kingdom, which have substantial differences in terms of geography, economy, and demography, allowing the students to have an international perspective and understand the challenges involved under different realities. Each group made an oral presentation and submitted a final report at the end of the course.
The use of 2050 Calculators allowed the students to understand and assimilate the complexity of mitigating carbon emissions in the energy sector. As observed in the classroom assessment at the end of the course, the learning approach was widely accepted and considered interesting and motivating by the students. This was also reflected on the quality of the oral presentations and reports, in which the students provided not only some scenario simulations, but also critical assessments and original propositions for climate change mitigation.
The 2050 Calculators are available at: www.imperial.ac.uk/2050-calculator