“Exploring Futures to Plan Energy Transition”: Our new report and its “Guidelines for Future Studies”


With this study, The Shift Project wishes to foster the development of a science based debate on energy transition through the scenario approach. The study takes the issue of power systems as a starting point. While the Methodological Framework and its 12 Technical files are primarily addressed to scenario producers, the Synthesis Report et its Executive Summary are addressed to all actors of society interested in gaining knowledge from, and about, future studies on energy transition.


Guidelines for Future Studies on Energy and Power Transition

Scenario-based prospective studies are essential tools to inform public debate on energy transition, as they are designed to engage stakeholders in discussions on complex and uncertain issues. Energy transition is a long-term process taking place through time, and involving all sectors of the economy, the environment and of society.

Many players (NGOs, public actors, professional associations, international organizations) seek to inform and influence the debate on energy transition through future studies. Several future studies reports are published each year in the form of “grey literature”. These reports are not peer reviewed per se, but they involve professional or academic experts from various fields in their constructions, and they inevitably trigger reactions and criticism when they are released (a form of post publication peer reviewing).

The scenario approach clearly meets the requirements for exploring energy transitions: it is holistic and time-based. In addition, it leaves room for creativity and for exploring new, unconventional pathways. However,
for this approach to positively influence the public debate on energy transition, it must be compatible with physics, and it must be truly holistic (otherwise certain first order consequences of the proposed transitions could be neglected).

Scenario-based future studies are currently facing various difficulties with regards to the high expectations placed on them. In a context of growing concern about climate change, biodiversity integrity, material and energy resource criticality, an increasing number of societal stakeholders question future studies regarding several aspects, and expect more and more from them.

We believe future studies are vital tools for the debate on energy transition, and we call for significantly more resources to be poured into future studies activities. In order to adequately inform the debate on energy transition, future studies should be more diverse, and their collective production processes should be upgraded. In addition, dialogue across future studies must be facilitated.

We reviewed the collective practices of future studies with respect to these key topics. We observed several critical limitations. We propose a Framework that helps scenario producers to overcome these limits, thus helping future studies activities to ‘grow up’.

Comments from scenario producers

The Framework developed by The Shift Project is a very useful compass to navigate into the jungle of energy transition scenarios. This Framework helps scenario producers provide greater transparency and communicate in a collectively more efficient way, leading to greater ease of comparability between their respective scenarios. Ultimately, this tool carries the public debate on energy transition beyond pure expert discussions.
Dimitri Pescia, Senior Associate at Agora Energiewende

This new report by The Shift Project highlights the practices, limitations and needs of scenario production on power systems within energy transition, in a very clear and documented way. An essential report for improving the understanding of energy transition scenarios by stakeholders, this report is also useful for scenario producers to improve their craft.
Emmanuel Hache, Economist at IFP Energies nouvelles (IFPEN)
This work highlights the needs for scenarios to be more transparent, more concrete and tangible in the way they describe transitions. Thus they could reveal intelligible elements to all actors so as to enable them to understand where they stand in the described transitions.
Yann Briand, Climate change and Transport esearcher at IDDRI
Contributor to the Deep Decarbonization Pathways Project (DDPP)
The Framework proposed by The Shift Project rightly insists on what I consider as three essential points for the debate on energy transition:
The energy transition is a long-term process. As such it requires to tackle ongoing changes from various sectors and points of view, with great transparency with regard to the selected objectives and scenarios; the use of interviews and of expertise from various fields (including academic expertise) improves the exploration of possible futures and fosters the debate for public decision-making;
The energy transition is characterized by high uncertainties on future technology pathways and on possible society changes. Hence rigorous modeling is required to highlight the inner-consistency or contradictions of explored futures;
Environmental aspects in the largest sense (global warming, resource exhaustion, biodiversity disappearance) drive the exploration of scenarios; public decisions must be based on a very large and exhaustive socio-economic assessment of the described futures, including all activity sectors.
Jacques Percebois
Professor Emeritus at University of Montpellier
Head of the Centre de Recherche en Économie et Droit de l’Énergie (CREDEN)


The main author of this study is Nicolas Raillard, an experimented project manager and complex systems specialist. The work has benefited from the contributions of around a hundred experts and stakeholders, over almost two years.

Contact: Jean-Noël Geist, Public Affairs Manager, The Shift Project – jean-noel.geist@theshiftproject.org | 00 33 (0) 6 95 10 81 91