A New Approach to Modeling Alternative Fuel and Vehicle Transitions

The reasons to transition from a fossil fuel based transportation system to a cleaner, more sustainable system are clear: environmental, climate, and resource limitations factors are coalescing to push a transition in the energy and transportation domains. The question is what sort of transition will it be? On one end of the transition spectrum is a perfect transition in which all of the transition objectives are met. The fleet becomes cleaner and more efficient without any major disruption to the transportation needs of people. This option may include the use of substantial VMT reduction strategies. At the opposite end of the transition spectrum are a variety of catastrophic scenarios in which inadequate fuel supplies and environmental failure leads to different flavors of disastrous outcomes envisioned in films like The Road Warrior and Children of Men.

There is a lot of work on various technological pathways towards transitions such as vehicle electrification and hydrogen fuel cells <refs>.  Other work shows that low carbon energy systems are theoretically feasible at some point 40+ years in the future. To make a cookbook metaphor, we have the ingredients, and we know what we want in the end. What’s missing is the recipe. But this is no ordinary recipe, it’s the most massive infrastructure change ever attempted.

My dissertation work at the Institute of Transportation Studies, UC Davis examines a new approach to transition support: simulation gaming. Simulation gaming extends the range of  computer models like MARKAL  by adding human decision-making into the process. Simulation gaming as an approach to planning for uncertainty has a long and effective history within the military. Over the last fifty years simulation games have become increasingly popular as a strategic planning approach for non-military endeavors, including infrastructure.

In this blog I will discuss the general subject of transitions in energy and transportation referencing both my own work and that of others.


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