AIMS

This work package will synthesise findings of research within and beyond ADVENT to assess the relative merits of various approaches to evaluating the ES impacts of energy pathways. It will seek to develop advice on how best to use these diverse approaches to enable meaningful comparisons between alternative energy pathways. 

APPROACH

A wide selection of valuation methodologies are available for assessing the ES impacts of energy pathways, yielding results expressed in varied and differing metrics. Key approaches to compare valuation results include cost benefit analysis (CBA), cost effectiveness analysis (CEA), risk assessment, life cycle assessment (LCA), multi-criteria assessment (MCA) methods, participatory and deliberative comparison approaches, the Balance Sheet Approach (from the NEA-FO) and Multi-criteria Mapping (MCM).  The diversity of assessment approaches is reflected in the proposed research plan (Projects 1 - 14) and given the complexity of evaluating the ES impacts of energy pathways this diversity in approaches is critical. However, this complexity can also prove obstructive to decision-making as deciding on the preferable approach can be problematic, and comparing non-commensurable results is a challenge.

This project will synthesise the outputs from the previous elements of the study, and the wider research base, to consider how best to use these diverse approaches to enable meaningful comparisons between alternative energy pathways. An assessment of the extent to which an integrated approach can be developed will be undertaken. The goal of expressing the ES impacts of energy pathways in a common metric, for example money, is admirable and applied in Projects 9, 10 & 11 but given the disparity in the metrics and outputs of the current evidence base it is unlikely that all aspects of natural capital, and in turn changes in ES flows, will lend themselves to monetization. Other approaches can also be problematic, for example the objectivity of MCA, which aggregates different metrics into single expressions of unit-less value, is open to challenge. The focus of this final project therefore will not be on producing, or even recommending, one all-encompassing framework, but instead in providing a series of guidelines to ensure the best use of existing approaches to understand and compare the different ES impacts of a variety of energy pathways. This will be achieved through five key steps:

1. Through discussion with the Advisory Group, and utilising the researchers’ wider networks, we will distribute an informal questionnaire to develop our understanding of the requirements and priorities of practitioners at local, regional and national scales who may use ES evaluations in assessments of energy options.

2. We will examine findings from research, including the current SPLICE initiative, to assess the relative merits of the various approaches to evaluating and comparing the ES impacts of energy pathways. A set of criteria will be developed, against which the performance of different approaches/frameworks can be evaluated. Criteria may include, handling of distributional weighting, inclusion of stakeholder opinion, capacity for aggregation, capacity to weight results, inclusion of uncertainty, handling of non-commensurable data, ease of understanding.

3. Building on the Project 14 a set of comparative approaches will be implemented (e.g. CBA, MCA and a more qualitative approach) so that their consistency of findings can be compared and the circumstances under which they are more or less appropriate can be identified. 

4. It is anticipated that several problematic issues will be attributable to all approaches, and these will be identified, discussed and, where possible, recommendations of how to address them made. Such issues include: different subjective valuations of non-market attributes and the difficulties in reconciling everyone’s preferences along a single preference metric in a society with plural values; possible non-stability of preferences; methodological issues related to empirical valuation techniques; irreversibility of some impacts and thresholds/tipping points; uncertainties associated with cumulative and indirect effects; measures of (or assumptions about) society’s level of risk aversion; treatment of long-term environmental problems and related issues such as discounting; impact of equity and equity weights and spatial discrepancies in distributions of costs and benefits.

5. We will recommend which approaches and issues should be the focus of further funding and research to best inform the energy pathway decision-making process.

Finally, as a result of the above activities Project 15 will synthesise the results of Projects 1 – 14, and the wider evidence base, to produce tangible advice regarding the comparison of the ES impacts of alternative energy pathways.

In addition to the core research, Project 15 will be the focus of a PhD studentship based at UCL ISR. This PhD will review the relative merits and shortcomings of a number of approaches to integrated appraisal methods and integration of different evaluation methodologies presented in the literature, e.g. the integration of MCA and CBA. Based on the outcomes of this project and our contribution to SPLiCE the student will assess the extent to which deliberative methods can help explore the assumptions in methodologies such as CBA and MCA. The studentship will be innovative by integrating exploratory deliberative methods into mainstream evaluation frameworks.

OUTPUTS

In conjunction with relevant stakeholders this project will provide an accessible synthesis document and briefing note (see Project 2) on the implications of valuing natural capital for decisions regarding future energy pathways. This will include guidance on decision tool selection for policy makers and a comparable assessment of the results of ADVENT regarding the ES impacts of alternative energy pathways. The success of Project 15 will depend on two-way communication with a variety of stakeholders, and will bring together VNP and energy communities, in addition to the wider stakeholders to understand and contribute to greater shared understanding as well as build a more robust approach to decision-support.