Growth dynamics of energy technologies: using historical patterns to validate low-carbon scenarios|

Working Paper 32


Historical growth dynamics of energy technologies reveal a consistent relationship between the extent to which a technology’s installed capacity grows and the time duration of that growth. This extent – duration relationship – is remarkably consistent across both supply-side and demand-side technologies, and both old and new energy technologies. Consequently, it can be used as a means of validating future scenarios of energy technology growth under carbon constraints.

This validation methodology is tested on the extents and durations of growth for a range of low-carbon technologies in scenarios generated by the MESSAGE energy system model, which has been widely used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

The key finding is that low-carbon technology growth in the scenarios appears generally conservative relative to what has been evidenced historically. This is counterintuitive given the extremely rapid growth rates of certain low-carbon technologies under tight carbon constraints.

Reasons for the apparent scenario conservatism are explored. Parametric conservatism in the underlying energy system model seems the most likely explanation.

Charlie Wilson