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Planning Tools

In the coming 50 years, it is crucial that the world's energy systems become environmentally benign and sufficient to meet everybody's energy needs. We currently have more efficient energy technologies than ever before, with an ability to supply 100% of our energy needs from renewable sources.

The purpose of INFORSE's work on sustainable energy plans and visions is to show how we can change the unsustainable energy system worldwide into a sustainable one. Changing the world's energy sytems requires improving the efficiency and sustainability of regional and local supplies.

Planning Tools for Sustainable Energy

What is the cheapest way to increase sources of renewable electricity?
How do we convince utilities that renewable energies are the future?
How do we ensure that a planning model does not cheat renewables?

NGOs that work for a renewable and sustainable energy strategy face questions like these whenever involved in discussions of the future of grid-based electricity supply.

This page provides tools for NGOs involved in sustainable energy planning. It includes an INFORSE-Europe report on how to assess renewable energy potentials and economical parameters in Europe, a report on current costs of  grid-connected renewable energy, and links to other resources on sustainable energy planning. It also includes a section on planning for municipalities' sustainable energy planning.

Power Planning Problems
It is common experience that electric utilities are making their plans according to their traditional experience, and do not give a fair treatment to renewable energy, energy efficiency, and other local solutions. They often do this with arguments based on results from large computer models of their electricity network and supply. Models that are not publicly available, and with no access for independent reviewers, nor NGOs to check the data.

NGO Alternative Plans
Several NGOs have found it necessary to work out their own, alternative plans and models for the energy system, in particular for the electric grid. And a number of tools exist with which NGOs and independent researchers can make their alternative models and scenarios. Such tools and models have been crucial in the campaigns for sustainable energy at several occasions, e.g.:

  • A Danish model developed by three university groups was already in 1983 used to make a detailed alternative energy plan for Denmark, a plan that was supported by many Danish NGOs, and that in many ways inspired the official Danish sustainable energy plan "Energy 2000" launched in 1990. The model was further developed into the SESAM model that has been used by regional planners in two Danish counties as well as in Czech Republic, Poland and Germany.
  • The Californian part of the Environmental Defense Fund developed the Elfin model during the 80s for its debates with utilities and public utility regulators, a model that is now used by the Californian Pacific Gas & Electricity and other large utilities as well as by NGOs in several countries
    Some models (e.g. SESAM) has a detailed modeling of cogeneration and heat supply, while others (e.g. Elfin) primarily gives a detailed model of the electricity supply system.

Renewable Energy Potentials (new update: December 2006)
An overview of the potentials for renewable energy in the area is needed to make any plan for substantial expnasion of renewable energy use. In 1997, INFORSE-Europe developed the
"Guideline for Estimation of Renewable Energy Potentials, Barriers, and Effects". (233 kB pdf file) The guideline was updated in 2006 with a chapter on liquid biofuels for transportation and updated biomass prices. The guideline also includes for each technology: barriers, employment, environmentalk issues, and simplified economy.

Municipal Sustainable Energy Plans
Several municipalities have shown that it is possible to reduce dependence of fossil and nuclear energy and improve environment by action on municipal level. They have made substantial emission reductions, and they have shown an example for many others. If more municipalities and other local authorities would take lead in this, global goal for emission reductions would be easier to achieve. Municipalities can influence energy use in a number of ways:

  • Reduce and change energy use in own buildings
  • Reduce and change energy use by own vehicles
  • The responsibility for roads and locals transport can be used to promote the most environmentally benign forms of transport
  • The municipality can take initiatives to energy efficiency and renewable energy based energy supply, such as cogeneration and district heating based on biomass, wind turbines etc.
  • Some municipalities have decided to transform the energy supply to be based 100% on renewable energy

The most successful initiatives have included municipal or other local sustainable energy plans that can be made with the tools described in the sections below.

Many organisations and municipalities have material available on the internet, describing their local sustainable energy initiatives.

The International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives (ICLEI) is organising local authorities that want to improve the environment. In their Local Agenda 21 and European Cities for Climate Protection campaign's they organise and assist local authorities.

The Climate Alliance of European Cities with Indigenous Rainforest People is organising European cities and and assisting the in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and in other ways become more sustainable energy.

Energie cites is organising cities to promote sustainable energy policy through local action

The Swedish city Växjö has adopted a plan for a fossil fuel free town, and is successfully implementing the plan.

The Danish islands Samsø and Aeroe have adopted plans to be supplied fully from renewable energy, and are also advancing in the implementation of the plans. On Aeroe the plans include the worlds largest solar heating system.

Renewable Energy Potentials
An overview of the potentials for renewable energy in the area is needed. In 1997, INFORSE-Europe developed a wind atlas and the
"Guideline for Estimation of Renewable Energy Potentials, Barriers, and Effects". (105 kB word file)

Technology Catalogue
A description of each of the potential technologies is needed, including e.g. efficiency, availability, investment costs, running costs, lifetime, expected future improvements and cost reductions. Usually the technologies can be divided into renewable energy technologies, fossil fuel and nuclear technologies, electricity conservation measures and energy storage.

An example of a renewable energy technology catalogue developed through the FAIRE project can be seen here: "The Benefits of Renewable Energy Resources" (254 kB word file).

Existing Supply
The existing supply (power plants, import options etc.) should be described in similar ways as the new technologies.

The present and expected future energy/electricity demand is needed: total energy, peak power, load curve(s), expected future development including expected increase of end-use efficiency

System Parameters and Requirements
A number of additional information is needed to describe the system, e.g. network losses and limitations of the grid. Also the requirement for stability must be defined: what is the acceptable probability that the system cannot meet demand and what is the penalty to pay for energy demand that is not served by the system? Because of the uncertainty of all supply systems these parameters are not negligable, and renewable energy based systems can give exactly the same standard of supply as other systems.

Demanding Tools
While the benefit of independent energy plans can be high, their development is demanding. It requires data and time. The development of a model and some sustainable energy scenarios can easily take half a year of work or more. Previously computer power was also a limitation, but today a modern office computer can perform most optimisation.
It is often advisable to start with just assessing potentials for renewable energy and energy conservation, or with simpler models, e.g. based on spreadsheets. Spreadsheet models  do not give economical optimisation, but they are good tools to calculate environmental and economical effects of a given investment plan. They can also be helpful to generate inputs to optimisation models. Several of these models are available for NGOs, e.g.:
- the ESM-model, a more advanced spreadsheet model with detailed sectoral breakdown, used for a Nordic energy study and in Estonia (contact INFORSE-Europe, Denmark).
- the LEAP model, used for several international studies by the Stockholm Environmental Institute (SEI) and others, contact the Boston branch of SEI.

FAIRE Project
OVE, The Danish Organisation for Renewable Energy, and six other NGOs and university groups have completed the FAIRE project, in which the Elfin model was used to develop scenarios for five local supply systems in EU. Via the project, economical optimal scenarios were found with and without environmental costs for each of the areas. Most of the optimisation included increased use of renewable energy.

Beside plans for the five smaller systems, FAIRE also produced an optimisation of the French electricity supply. Even though this was done with official (low) cost figures for nuclear power plants, most scenarios phased out nuclear power plants within the next 20-30 years and opted not to build new ones. This was seen as the most optimal economical solution.

The FAIRE project was supported by the EU JOULE Program.

More Information:

FAIRE Project and Elfin model:

INFORSE-Europe, att. Gunnar Boye Olesen (Denmark),
e-mail:, and

INESTENE (France), att. Antoine Bonduelle,

Elfin, also:
EDF(Oakland, California), e-mail:

SESAM - Sustainable Energy Systems Analysis Model
ECO Consult (Denmark), att. Klaus Illum,

LEAP - Long-range Energy Alternatives Planning System
Stockholm Environmental Institute in Boston, USA,, E-mail: