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

04 December 2018
Societal metabolism
Water-energy-food nexus
Hierarchy theory
Science-policy interface
Di Felici et al.

Di Felici LJ, Ripa M & Giampietro M 2019, ‘An alternative to market-oriented energy models: Nexus patterns across hierarchical levels’, Energy Policy vol. 126, pp. 431-443. DOI: 10.1016/j.enpol.2018.11.002. Available in open access on Zenodo.


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 sciencepolicy 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.

First published online: 04 December 2018.