Emergent behaviour in the energy transition

News - 19 December 2022

Mitigating the adverse effects of climate change requires us, globally, to speed up the energy transition: to decarbonise energy supply while maintaining the security of supply and the affordability of energy services. This is an unprecedented challenge. The energy transition seems to have moved into a phase of scaling up: technologies are becoming competitive; more and more of the public will have to be involved in the energy transition in the coming years. In this report, we outline the opportunities that come from studying so-called ‘emergent behaviour’ in the energy transition.

Emergent behaviour are trends or patterns observed on the aggregated/system level that are not a simple sum of the individual actions. What drives behaviour is hard to anticipate, but understanding it is crucial for a successful energy transition – to avoid lock-in and delays. As such, this report outlines what the concepts emergence and complexity theory can entail for the energy transition, what approaches there are to study this, and how to translate this into action. We focus on how we may be able to anticipate how such behaviour (i.e., opinions, choices and using) of larger societal groups may promote or hamper progress in the energy transition. And, at the end of the day, how to affect those processes to scale up a fair, inclusive energy transition robustly.

Based on literature and interviews, we provide five perspectives: 1) behaviour in the energy transition, 2) the transformation of large systems, 3) emergent behaviour and marketing, 4), modelling emergent behaviour, and 5) intervening to shape complex systems. There are substantial opportunities to better develop, study and integrate concepts from complex systems and energy systems research and modelling into decision-making processes for the energy transition. We present a research agenda including a concrete action plan for the following research challenges: behavioural theory and modelling of the energy transition, 2) anticipating emergent behaviour to scale up the energy transition, 3) developing transition narratives, and 4) embracing key/change agents and emergent leadership.

The action items vary between quick wins and fundamental research ideas that may, together, help us to better shape the energy transition.

Chappin, E. J. L., & Blomme, R. (2022). Emergent behaviour in the energy transition. Delft University of Technology. https://doi.org/10.4233/uuid:45e6f487-41ab-4299-96c7-5c8c8ab58392