Backcasting energy futures using industrial ecology

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Journal Article
Technological Forecasting and Social Change, 2011, 78 (5), pp. 797 - 818
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Backcasting has been widely used for developing energy futures. This paper explores the potential for using industrial ecology to guide the development of energy futures within a backcasting framework. Building on the backcasting work of Robinson [1], a seven step method is presented to embed industrial ecology principles within the development and assessment of future scenarios and transition paths toward them. The approach is applied to the case of backcasting regional energy futures in the Latrobe Valley, near Melbourne, Australia. This region has substantial brown coal deposits which are currently mined and used in coal-fired power stations to generate electricity. Bounded by a sustainability vision for the region in a carbon-constrained world, regional industrial ecologies in 2050 were backcast around three themes: bio-industries and renewables (no coal usage); electricity from coal with carbon capture and storage (low to high coal usage); and coal to products such as hydrogen, ammonia, diesel, methanol, plastics and char (demonstrating medium to high overall coal use relative to current levels). Potential environmental, technological, socio-political and economic impacts of each scenario across various life cycle stages were characterised. Results offer a platform for regional policy development to underpin deliberation on a preferred future by the community, industry and other stakeholders. Industrial ecology principles were found to be useful in backcasting for creatively articulating alternative futures featuring industrial symbiosis. However, enabling the approach to guide implementation of sustainable transition pathways requires further development and would benefit from integration within the Strategic Sustainable Development framework of Robèrt et al. [2].
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