Important policy and investment decisions should be made regarding current and future low-carbon energy technologies that would be deployed in the coming years and decades. The inclusion of multiple sustainability criteria in the assessment process is of major importance and a growing priority of the EU. Recent studies have considered environmental externalities as well as social, economic and technological aspects of energy systems’ sustainability. Moreover, there is an increasing load of literature on evaluating the European energy security of supply and its vulnerability on fuel imports.

Issues such as disaster risk management of energy systems, the increasing reliance on fuel imports and risks involved for the EU security of energy supply, and the likely impacts of a changing climate to the European energy system constitute resilience of current and future energy technologies as a major priority for the EU. The concept of system resilience has been contextualized in different fields. In the energy sector though there are few studies that explicitly address system resilience.

Moreover, various literature acknowledge the desirability of integrating sustainability and complex systems. While there are already attempts to integrate these two components, there is a lack of literature on sustainability and resilience indicators integrated in one framework for the assessment of energy technologies. Our paper presents the development of an assessment framework of indicators for low-carbon energy technologies that integrates both sustainability and resilience aspects. More specifically, the focus of this paper is on the selection of criteria and indicators (envisioning stage), going through the steps of self-validation (internal), scientific validation (by experts), and social validation (by stakeholders).

This integrated assessment framework of indicators is the first attempt to bring together sustainability and resilience aspects providing an analytical tool to policy-makers on identifying the potential sustainability impacts and vulnerabilities of different energy technologies. The proposed approach integrates stakeholders’ views in the very initial stage of the assessment process, namely during the selection and validation of indicators. This could effectively reduce the risk of conflict between energy project designers and relevant stakeholders.

Moreover, this framework can be adjusted and used either by local or national policy-makers for the integrated assessment of specific energy technologies. The application of the assessment framework aims to enhance guidance and evidence-based support of local and national decision-makers when planning and developing energy technologies and policies towards a low-carbon and resilient development path. By this paper we hope to further trigger discussion on the importance of explicitly integrating sustainability and resilience aspects and indicators in the assessment of low-carbon energy options, technologies, and policies.

The developed integrated assessment framework of indicators has been applied for the evaluation of selected current and future low-carbon energy technologies in Europe at the local level by incorporating stakeholders’ preferences in the assessment process in order to enhance legitimacy, participation, and learning. Another novel aspect of the current study is the modification of the ‘3S’ validation process in the context of low-carbon energy planning and assessment. The modified ‘3S’ validation process along with the involvement of a wide range of experts and stakeholders made possible the development of a refined set of evaluation criteria and indicators.

The scrutiny of the criteria selection and validation process and inclusion of stakeholders enhanced the relevance of criteria and indicators, contributed to improved and clearly described set of criteria and indicators, and enhanced the decision-making process by incorporating aspects both on sustainability impacts of energy technologies such as environmental and socio-economic impacts but also on resilience and vulnerability aspects of the technologies. Furthermore, it improved the robustness of the assessment framework by increasing the acceptance of selected criteria, provided a first indication of the potentially least important criteria, allowed stakeholders’ active participation, while at the same time, built a flexible and adaptive decision-making process that can be easily adjusted to different local circumstances.

For more information, read our research paper which has been published in the International Journal of Sustainable Energy.

Developing an integrated sustainability and resilience framework of indicators for the assessment of low carbon energy technologies at the local level

Authors: Stelios Grafakos, senior expert, and Elena Marie Enseñado, researcher, at the Institute for Housing and Urban Development Studies, Erasmus University Rotterdam, Rotterdam, The Netherlands, and Alexandros Flamos, Department of Industrial Management and Technology, University of Pireaus, Pireaus, Greece

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