Ascendance, resistance, resilience : concepts and analyses for designing energy and water systems in a changing climate

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This thesis synthesises a set of improved concepts and analyses for designing energy and water systems in a changing climate. The thesis begins by reviewing the concepts that have influenced the planning, design and assessment of energy and water systems through time. The conceptual development is characterised as a series of emerging paradigms or ‘waves’, each providing new insights while revealing new conceptual blind spots. The review finds a series of conceptual ambiguities and tensions that may be inhibiting a more integrated perspective. Based on the premise that cities may be better characterised as coupled ecological and economic systems, the review then explores several fields seeking an interdisciplinary synthesis between ecology and economics, and finds much has been ‘lost in translation’ as the concepts have been adapted and operationalised. The thesis then embarks on a broad and deep historical literature review to identify the concepts observed to underlie systemic performance in ecology and economics. In so doing, a conceptual framework is synthesised to provide a coherent model for systemic performance drawn from both disciplines. The framework comprises three attributes: the capacity of a system to thrive despite resource scarcity and competition, termed ‘ascendance’; the capacity of a system to absorb variability, fluctuation and disturbance and remain essentially unchanged, termed ‘resistance’; and the capacity of a system to adapt with shocks, shifts and perturbation and avoid systemic failure, termed ‘resilience’. Each attribute is addressed in turn by first identifying the underlying drivers or imperatives (the ‘why’), then by elaborating its various definitions within the literature (the ‘what’), and then by unpacking the underlying mechanisms toward its development (the ‘how’). Returning to the fields of urban water and energy planning, the thesis then explores the extent to which the conceptual framework translates and provides new insights into urban water and energy systems. The translation demonstrates a clear alignment between the conceptual findings of ecology and economics and emerging patterns in urban water and energy systems. Furthermore, the translation reveals how the conceptual framework may be applied to describe, analyse and design for improved systemic performance. The thesis then analyses a set of candidate analytical methods for assessing each attribute of the conceptual framework, including the strengths, limitations and appropriate role of each analytical method. A set of heuristics is then developed for structuring an integrated assessment of systemic performance. The thesis then demonstrates and validates the identified concepts and analyses by elaborating a set of hypothetical case studies supplemented by analytical modelling. The case studies provide a practical demonstration of how the concepts and analyses may be applied in a set of realistic problem situations. They further demonstrate how the concepts and analyses result in improved outcomes, both in cost-effectiveness and robustness. A discussion of the key findings and contributions of the research follows, together with some concluding remarks regarding the research limitations and future research opportunities.
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