Hosler building

The engineering, market, and social systems that produce and deliver energy account for almost 10% of total worldwide economic activity. Market forces, policy decisions, and environmental change all affect the functioning of energy systems and the technology and consumption choices made by individuals and organizations.

PESTL brings together researchers from multiple fields to address the question, “How can energy system design choices facilitate desired change over long time periods in ways that are resilient, adaptive, economically appropriate and technologically sound?”

Energy system design and decision problems are inherently complex because they: involve a wide range of interacting time scales; involve trade-offs that reach beyond typical political or economic cycles; depend on multiple interconnected factors including the pace and nature of technological and economic change as well as social preferences; often generate multiple winners and losers.

PESTL was founded on the premise that it is impossible to predict what an optimal energy system will look like decades into the future. Long-term policy or economic outcomes focused on resilience, affordability and environmental impacts are sensible outcomes, but policies that are specific about technology pathways or targets may lock in technologies, regulations or market structures that expose systems and consumers to unwanted risks.

A better approach, and the topic of PESTL’s research, is to focus on robust and dynamic adaptive strategies for energy systems, and to evaluate near-term investments and policy solutions that generate options for the future and allow complex systems to adapt to changing conditions.