All posts by Franziska Schuetze

The IV. Open Global Systems Science Conference

The GSS conference 2015 with the title “Everything is Connected – Equilibrium and Disequilibrium in Social, Economic and Political Systems” was held in Genova, Italy from October 29-30, 2015. It was organized by the University of Genoa as part of the Science Festival of Genoa.

The conference sessions focused on urban systems, economic systems, financial systems, sustainability, crowdsourcing and participation, big data and high-performance computing. Speakers were Geoffrey West, Alan Kirman, Sheri Markose, Silvano Cincotti, Stefano Battiston, Luciano Pietronero, Jeffrey Johnson, representatives from the ECB and Dutch Central Bank and others.

To promote young researchers, a special Young Scholar Session was held, where 6 PhD students and PostDocs presented their innovative work related to global system science.

Additionally, there was a special exhibition area at Palazzo Ducale, where the projects funded by the European Commission under the GSS cluster presented new ICT tools developed within the projects. The exhibition area was open for visitors from the GSS conference as well as for a wider audience from the Genova Science Festival. The booths contained posters as well as screens, showing data analyses and info graphics on the different topics developed.

For details, check the program here

Draft of call for papers on agent-based models for GSS (GSS Conference 2014)

The intention of this session is to address how agent based models can generate new insight for global systems. In this perspective we invite contributions with different applications, methodological approaches and programming tools.

This session aims at understanding how to face challenges arising from global interactions. With regard to governance issues it is interesting to look at how different policy decisions influence the outcome of geographically interrelated regions. From a global systems science perspective we are interested in (however, not limited to) the following application areas 1) Interactions between geographical, economic, social and environmental systems, 2) Economic and social challenges arising from climate change mitigation, 3) Disaster response and crowd simulations related to climate change adaptation and 4) Immigration patterns and related economic and social outcomes.

From a methodological point of view two points should be addressed by the contributions to this session. First, in order to gain insights for policy making and governance, the agent-based models need to be assessed with empirical data. Therefore, questions of estimation, calibration and validation arise. Second, the question of the appropriate level of aggregation to explain the system and problem modeled needs to be addressed.

Tools that are used by different disciplines and often used not only by computer scientists, one of the aims is to establish an open source shared platform for different agent-based models that allows for sharing and reusing code. Moreover, there is the need for tools that allow scholars to build efficient large scale models as well as tools for analyzing the model behavior.

Agent-based models for GSS – Beijing 2013

GSS preparatory meeting, Beijing, October 29, 2013

Notes on the parallel session about agent-based models for GSS

In general agent-based models have proven to be useful in modeling systems characterized by emergent properties at macro level, heterogeneous interacting agents, networks and bounded rationality. In economics agent-based models emerged from the criticism towards the representative agent and the perfect rationality assumption.

The group discussed the research area in which they are applying agent-based models, which are the following:

  • Transportation/traffic issues
  • Disaster response (shelter topology & impacts on economic activity)
  • Climate change and sustainable economic system
  • Housing markets
  • Macroeconomic & financial system
  • Integrated risk governance

Furthermore, it was discussed that agent-based modeling is one of several tools, whose usefulness depends on the specific system or problem to be studied.

Concerning the usefulness for different applications, an important question that was addressed was: Where have agent-based models been used successfully? Where have they improved the understanding of specific problems and related decision making. We identified:

  • Pedestrian traffic (where heterogeneity is not important, but the topology and a large number of actors are important)
  • Panics in large groups/herd behavior in financial markets
  • Epidemics

The first has been widely used to understand crowd behavior and design safer public structures such as subway stations and airports and possibly improve post-disaster management. The second have proven to replicate boundedly rational behavior of human beings, both in financial markets and in emergency situations. We regard the other topics as promising in terms of generating new insights.

An interesting question for the GSS conference would be how agent-based models can be used for analyzing global systems instead of for specific questions only. In this regard, we propose to invite agent-based modelers working on more elaborate models.

We discussed scale effects, in particular which number of agents are needed for specific applications. We discussed a proposals of aggregating agents (not using representative agents) and the possible levels of aggregation, such as micro or meso level modeling of agents.

Especially considering economic models we need to improve the communication with policy makers and mainstream economists.  In this regard, a crucial aspect which should be addressed in the conference is how to estimate, calibrate and validate agent-based models with empirical data.

Another important question is which programming tools can be used to share code and models and to minimize programing errors. Due to lack of time we did not elaborate on this topic. However, it is an important issue and should be addressed in the conference.

Open Position: mathematical economist for green growth modeling

GCF, The Global Climate Forum, is looking for a mathematical economist to join our research team developing an innovative model of economic systems. The model shall be used for policy analysis in view of climate policy and green growth. Through the representation of multiple equilibria it will allow to identify win-win strategies for climate policy. The model will be applied to Germany, but its design shall allow for modifications to fit other countries and regions.


For more information on the position please download the job description.

For more information about the project go to German Green Growth Model.

Additional contribution to the energy section of the GSS Orientation Paper

Regarding the energy section of the GSS Orientation Paper the following topics seem to be important to me. Some thoughts might already be incorporated in the latest version just posted by David, but I post them anyways:

1) Global energy trade flows and the economy

In 2011, annual revenues of the three largest energy corporations such as Royal Dutch Shell, Exxon and Chevron were in the range of US$ 470bn, US$ 433bn, US$ 236bn respectively (Global Energy company rankings: Seeing that this is as large as the GDP of Portugal (US$ 237bn), Argentina (US$ 446bn), Norway (US$ 485bn) in the same year, one can assume that energy trade flows have a significant impact on the global economy as a whole.

GSS can engage in mapping and understanding the global flows of energy: including fuels/raw materials used as energy source, as well as trade flows of generated electricity. Resulting from this information, we can ask how the energy sector influences the global economy?

How would a shift in trade flows or price shocks influence the economic activities in the network of countries and corporations involved, e.g.:

  • How does the shale gas boom in the US influence global trade (quantities and prices) of oil, gas and coal. Does it shift electricity generation practices globally?
  • How vulnerable is the “real” economy? How do oil/gas/coal price shocks influence the industry and therefore the entire economy globally?
  • Can a shock in the energy sector cause a global crisis to a similar extend as the financial sector?

More advances tools and models are needed to assess global scenarios of this kind.


2) Energy & electricity modeling

In the area of energy modeling especially when assessing electricity costs, there is a need to go above and beyond single technology considerations, where usually LCOE (leveled cost of electricity) or capex (capital expenditure) of several technologies are compared to each other.

Instead, energy costs need to be analyzed from a system cost perspective, including more than one electricity generation technology (not a single technology vs. another) and including system costs such as energy storage, transportation as well as demand side management (next to generation costs).

If for example a generation or storage technology is expensive from a capex and LCOE perspective, but highly relevant from a system perspective and will only run several hours per year, it will not increase the overall system costs significantly but will add value to the system.

Parameters that become important then are technological lifetime, load and capacity factor, flexibility, storage capacity, as well as cost sensitivity with respect to changes in variable costs such as fuel costs and CO2 costs.

Even if an electricity system is optimized in terms of total system costs, the following question remains: Does the system need to be organized in a centralized fashion?

GSS can develop tools to assess differences in efficiency and costs of a decentralized energy system versus a centrally organized energy system.

Linking energy system considerations to climate change and sustainability research is equally important. Here GSS can shed more light on questions such as:

  • multiple equilibria:

The question of multiple equilibria is relevant for the energy system as well. The current energy system (in any country) is not without alternatives, therefore the question is which alternative systems (equilibria) are possible and how can a transformation to such an equilibrium take place.

If the aim of an energy system is to provide supply security at minimal cost for society (system costs plus externalities), there are several possible equilibria, however with different levels of externalities. Assessing and choosing for a possible energy systems should include considerations in climate and environmental policy as well.

  • Externalities:

The amount of externalities, such as CO2 emissions throughout the entire value chain, environmental degradation, contamination, food security, loss of biodiversity, long-term risks of fuel extraction and waste disposal need to be assessed more carefully and taken into account.

  • risk assessment:

There are short-term risks (emerging during the operation time of the plant) and long-term risks (risks that go beyond the operation time of the plant). The assessment of these risks seem to differ very strongly between countries and are heavily influenced by political goals and political decision making. Private companies internalize the benefits of using energy technologies with high long-term risk, but often the long-term risks are transferred to the nations and therefore society. The involved risks are only shifted in space and time but not reduced or eliminated. Lobbying power of energy corporations certainly plays an important role here.

Energy corporations are not wiling to take the long-term risks due to the short-termism of todays financial and investment cycles. The challenge is to find governance mechanisms that make corporations take over a larger part of these risks collectively (disaster fund /resource extraction fund or similar) and therefore take over more responsibility for long-term consequences of their operations.

However, there are no unified measures used to assess these kinds of long-term risks. The challenge is to establish a more objective and more holistic risk assessment at a global scale, which will put a price tag (a range of potential costs) to specific technologies and practices.


3) Market design and policy interventions at a global scale

Information about energy market design and policies implemented in the energy sector is highly dispersed and partially not transparent:

  • First, how is the energy market organized/set-up in countries worldwide: Which markets are liberalized, which are centralized, what are the resulting wholesale and retail prices, how transparent are the costs for the consumer? How can we obtain more transparency in OTC transactions?
  • Second, which countries have implemented which policies (e.g feed-in-tariffs, quota systems, etc.) with which effects?

A more systematic monitoring and information sharing system is needed to increase learning at a global scale.


4) Innovation and technological development

From a sustainability perspective, technological development in the energy sector need to take into account the negative environmental and social impact throughout the value chain. Different solutions need to be assessed in a more holistic way. Questions arising from that are:

  • What do learning curves for different technologies depend on? How can they be accelerated? Which role does energy policy and industrial policy play?
  • How can we make sure that new energy technologies focus on sustainability and become value–adding for the environment and society?
  • What is the role and the responsibility of engineers in this respect? (Analog to the question on the responsibility of bankers and traders in the financial sector)


5) Connections between the different layers and networks

Decisions have influences (often unintended) on other sectors (cross-sector) and other countries (cross-country) and vice versa:

  • Interconnections between the transport sector, industry, energy sector, housing/building sector, the financial sector and so forth become increasingly important. E.g. How can the financial system support and hinder technological development? How does energy policies influence climate policies?
  • Decisions about the market organization of the energy market in one country have an influence on neighboring countries and trade partners. Countries should be more aware of and take into account the influence their decisions have on other countries (especially in the EU context) and coordinate policies in this respect.