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Back to the Holocene
Research Proposal Outline

Modelling Detailed, Cost-Optimized, Realistic Regional and Global Technology Deployment Pathways
to a Future of Abundant Renewable Energy and a Safe and Stable Climate

This is a summary of longer documents explaining the research project and work packages in detail. The proposal is also available as PDF one page and four page document as well as a set of presentation slides.
Available on request: A detailed 50-page version of this research proposal, comprehensively annotated with references to the peer-reviewed scientific literature.

Research Aims and Motivations

Our world has a problem: Policymakers have been focused, since the Paris Agreement of 2015, on trying to limit the increase in global average annual surface temperature to well below 2.0°C and as close to 1.5°C as possible compared to the late 19th century average (right now we are already at 1.2°C). The implicit assumption has been that 1.5°C is „safe enough.“ Unfortunately, it turns out it is not at all safe enough:

Steffen, W. et al. Trajectories of the Earth System in the Anthropocene. Proc NatlAcad Sci USA 115, 8252–8259 (2018).
We show a pathway to the state ‚“‚Stabelized Earth‘

With the „Back to the Holocene“ research project, we offer a key piece of the solution: an advanced tool for specifying realistically feasible, carefully calibrated technological pathways from the brink of disaster back to safety by reaching a global CO2 level similar to that which prevailed during the Holocene era, i.e. the era of relatively stable climate and sea level since the end of the last Ice Age – the era during which human civilisation developed and our great cities were built. The question we pose is: Can the world simultaneously deliver sustainable energy abundance for everyone, leaving no-one behind, and regain climate safety by returning atmospheric CO2 back well below today’s levels, far enough and soon enough to stabilize sea level and conserve our coastal cities and lowlands? If so, how can this be achieved in infrastructure terms, in well-calibrated technological detail? What equipment needs to be built, by when, in what quantities? What are the least-cost and best solutions?

Research Methods

The „Back to the Holocene“ research project will explore these twin aims in detail. With LUT-ESTM 2.0, we will provide least-cost technology pathways for simultaneously achieving sustainable energy abundance and net negative annual CO2 emissions, as follows:

This research project will further develop one of the world’s most respected and sophisticated Energy System Transition Modelling environments, LUT-ESTM, which received the highest rating from among ten globally leading energy systems models from independent evaluators. This ESTM has already allowed us to calculate cost-optimised technology pathways to net zero emissions by 2050 or 2040 for individual countries, for Europe, and for the world as a whole. Our research based on LUT-ESTM is the basis of more than 50 peer-reviewed journal articles published since 2015, including in top journals such as Nature, Joule, and Science. See Google Scholar search results here. See Scopus search results here.

Our energy systems modelling research has found that because of steep unit price declines in solar PV, energy storage technologies, and electrolysers over the past decade – trends that are projected to continue – an abundant renewable energy based economy that leaves no-one behind is coming into focus as a technologically and financially realistic mid-future prospect. In addition, IPCC Reports are in consensus that carbon dioxide removal technologies must soon be deployed at very large scale to restore a safe and stable climate, by achieving net negative annual CO2 emissions.

LUT-ESTM already features by far the highest level of geographic resolution of any ESTM, featuring 9 major regions subdivided into ca. 48 macro regions and 145 meso-scale regions. LUT-ESTM 2.0 will further subdivide the world into 800+ regions corresponding to administrative units such as federal states or provinces. This will make LUT-ESTM 2.0 directly useful to regional energy system planners, investors, and researchers.

Implementation in LUT-ESTM 2.0 of carbon dioxide removal (CDR) technologies and estimates of their unit cost degressions, with the geographically specific potential of each technology quantified – and the CDR systems‘ energy and materials requirements specified – will allow us to provide detailed regional pathways beyond net-zero annual CO2 emissions that will, if implemented, achieve net resequestration (net negative annual emissions). With this, we can chart a least-cost high-prosperity global pathway back down to 350 ppm and below. This too is an unprecedented and very useful research innovation of the Back to the Holocene research project.

Research Impacts

We believe this project will have game-changing impact. Our research to date has shown that highly renewable energy based pathways to global or regional net-zero annual emissions can be achieved at cost parity or better, compared to business as usual. Our next research phase can show the least-cost path to climate safety even as it generates much more geographically detailed pathways to sustainable energy prosperity, region by region.

Research Work Packages and Funding Requirements

Funding is needed to carry out the next phase of research, including for:

Learn More: Contact LUT Solar Economy Research Group

We are looking forward to finding funding partners who share our passion for and commitment to the grand challenge of bringing into being a win-win pathway to both climate safety and energy prosperity.

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