Courses prepare officials for energy choices

26 September 2005

Electrifying issues: Mark Howells of UCT's Energy Research Centre (ERC) talks Doriccah Lefawane, of the Department of Minerals and Energy in Pretoria, through some of the complications of energy-modelling software.

When you're about to take some make-or-break decisions on national energy resources - and maybe you don't just want to take the word of the suits from the multinationals - it would be useful to have an idea what the likely outcomes of those decisions will be. It goes without saying that it's not an exact science, but two short courses offered for years now by the Energy Research Centre (ERC) at UCT help prepare policymakers, planners and energy engineers for those big calls. In late August and early September, delegates from, among other places, government departments in Ethiopia, Kenya, Zambia and South Africa (the Department of Minerals and Energy) attended the 2005 run of these ERC programmes. Essentially, the courses show delegates how to get the best out of two invaluable modelling tools, both well used around the globe. The first piece of software is the Long Range Energy Alternatives Planning (LEAP) model, designed by the the Stockholm Environment Institute with input from the ERC. With LEAP, delegates can run scenarios on issues such as energy demand, the provision of energy to rural areas and electrification in general, and on greenhouse-gas emission and pollution control. The second course is on the MARKAL "technical-economic equilibrium" model devised by the International Energy Agency (IEA) for its Energy Technology Systems Analysis Programme (ETSAP), software also adapted by the ERC. As with LEAP, the more high-tech, information-richer MARKAL allow for analysis on hot potatoes such as the reduced emissions of greenhouse gases, energy security and efficiency, and the uptake of new technologies. "For most developing countries, these kinds of decisions are absolutely vital, and can change the direction of a country," says Mark Howells, ERC senior research officer, who runs the courses led by another research officer at the ERC, Thomas Alfstad. "[LEAP and MARKAL] are powerful tools that can help them make those decisions."

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