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Sustainability analysis with Analytica to see both the forest & the trees

By the end of 2014, the Government of Ontario, Canada, has committed to phasing out the use of coal and phasing in renewable solutions to produce electricity. Naturally, it needs a solution to replace this energy production and the choice is between natural gas and biomass– in this case, wood pellets. A sustainability analysis of this transition must take into account the renewability of these alternative resources, the way they meet energy demands and their effect on the environment. However, these are not the only factors affecting the viability (or not) of such a change.

Factors to be taken into account when analyzing sustainability Image source:

Analytica environment models

As a modeling application, Analytica has already been used for similar models. Examples include Lumina’s Analytica Transportation Energy Assessment Model (ATEAM) and RE-Sim (Renewable Energy Market Simulation). As environmental modeling gets more complex and flexibility in trying different configurations and factors becomes more important, Analytica’s technology allows modelers to rapidly adapt their work. Modeling teams working with Analytica can also easily put user input interfaces in place, so that end-users can drive the sustainability analysis themselves to see the effect of changes in parameter values.

Modeling energy generation with biomass

In the case of Ontario Power Generation (OPG) and its use of wood pellets, relationships and outcomes to be analyzed include: the amount of wood pellets required to replace the current coal-fired production; the change in greenhouse gases this would produce; the effect on forests required to produce the wood pellets; and the impact on employment. Uncertainty in the sustainability analysis for these factors also needs to be evaluated, both for each factor and for the final result.

Results from previous models

Biomass energy production centered on the use of wood pellets provides advantages in almost every dimension. Manufacturing the wood pellets using low-grade or residual wood material means zero decline in forest plantations over a 100 year energy planning period. Biomass greenhouse gas emissions are 80 per cent lower than those of natural gas. Using wood pellets also indicates a potential to create over 3,000 jobs and an increase of 590 million Canadian dollars annually to the gross domestic product of Ontario. These sustainability analysis advantages must be matched against the fact that the annual consumption of two hundred million tonnes of wood pellets involved would generate less electricity than using coal. Wind and solar energy could then be used to make up any shortfall.

Further research needed

The modelers indicate that these sustainability analysis results are still preliminary. They recommend further analysis and in particular sensitivity analysis to help test assumptions used. Defining the model in Analytica would allow not only for immediate sensitivity and importance analysis, but also for the extension and modification of the model afterwards. In addition, the orientation of Analytica towards the visual aspects of modeling makes it easier to present all of the results to different stakeholders for discussion and final decisions. If you’d like to know how Analytica, the modeling software from Lumina, can help you to flexibly extend your sustainability analysis and other environmental models, then try a free evaluation of Analytica to see what it can do for you.

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