An alternative to market-oriented energy models: Nexus patterns across hierarchical levels

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From a biophysical perspective, energy is central to the behaviour of social-ecological systems. Its ubiquity means that 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, we 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: (i) the distinction of the model's building blocks into functional and structural elements; (ii) their hierarchical organisation and (iii) 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.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)431-443
Number of pages13
JournalEnergy Policy
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2019


  • Complexity
  • Hierarchy Theory
  • Science-Policy Interface
  • Societal Metabolism
  • Water-energy-food nexus


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