Energy systems modeling for twenty-first century energy challenges

Stefan Pfenninger*, Adam Hawkes, James Keirstead

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

718 Citations (Scopus)


Energy systems models are important methods used to generate a range of insight and analysis on the supply and demand of energy. Developed over the second half of the twentieth century, they are now seeing increased relevance in the face of stringent climate policy, energy security and economic development concerns, and increasing challenges due to the changing nature of the twenty-first century energy system. In this paper, we look particularly at models relevant to national and international energy policy, grouping them into four categories: energy systems optimization models, energy systems simulation models, power systems and electricity market models, and qualitative and mixed-methods scenarios. We examine four challenges they face and the efforts being taken to address them: (1) resolving time and space, (2) balancing uncertainty and transparency, (3) addressing the growing complexity of the energy system, and (4) integrating human behavior and social risks and opportunities. In discussing these challenges, we present possible avenues for future research and make recommendations to ensure the continued relevance for energy systems models as important sources of information for policy-making.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)74-86
Number of pages13
JournalRenewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews
Publication statusPublished - 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • Complexity
  • Energy policy
  • Energy systems modeling
  • High-resolution modeling
  • Uncertainty


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