Monday, August 18, 2008

Introduction to Energy Scenarios Ireland 2

In looking to help people understand how the future might be different from today, we could have made a prediction about what that future holds. To do this we would first have had to reach a compromise between us about what the future would be like. Then we would have had to adjust that future to within the bounds of what we thought others would find credible, after all there is no point in making a prediction that nobody believes. This would have limited the areas we could explore by not going outside the popular comfort zone. In the end our damped down prediction would have read something like "After a period of readjustment, Ireland will return to a period of strong economic growth...". Just what everyone wants to hear.

Or, we could go ahead and make a prediction. Human nature being what it is, the most common reaction would be to focus on the areas of disagreement. A heated discussion would follow that might change a few opinions, but make little progress towards identifying risks and opportunities for the future and improve long term decision making.

So instead we have chosen to continue to use Scenario Planning to explore a range of possible futures, none of which we expect to reflect what actually happens, but instead explore different aspects of our future. Our experience developing Energy Scenarios Ireland version 1, was that it is much easier to lay aside our inbuilt assumptions and consider a unexpected future if it is not being touted as a prediction. It circumvents the long process of convincing others that we are right and we can go straight to applying our collective imaginations to exploring the risks and opportunities for that scenario. Everyone can then apply what they have learned to their own vision of the future. Looking at the scenarios collectively helps in developing and testing plans - if a plan will only work in one scenario, building in more flexibility should be considered.

We are, in fact, going to explore "After a period of readjustment..." with four scenarios, that are similar but not exactly the same as those in the previous version of Energy Scenarios Ireland.

Read more about the previous version here:

Business As Usual - we briefly look at a short period of readjustment followed by a return to strong economic growth. What might have to happen in order for this fairy tale to come true!
Enlightened Transition - considers a longer downturn but an immediate focus on increasing energy productivity and moving to renewable sources of energy. This leads to economic recovery driven by investment in these new areas. Not without pain for those dependent on Business As Usual.
Fair Shares - we wait longer before making a commitment to move away from fossil fuel and therefore have less resources with which to do so. Recovery takes longer to start and improvement is slow.
Enforced Localisation - we continue to be optimistic about the future until there are few options left but to return to a subsistence economy.

Scenarios are not predictions. In order to explore these different scenarios we are making assumptions about the wider world that include:
- no sudden and significant climate change
- no sudden and significant increase in terrorism
- no pandemics in either humans or livestock
- no discover of direct replacement for oil that is cheap and quickly scaleable
- Ireland cannot act unilaterally to any extent, so the rest of the world follows broadly the same scenario