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Innovation under Uncertainty
by Valentina Bosetti
Environment - Book Reviews

The widest and most systematic collection of energy technologies expert elicitations for Europe so far has just been published as a book by Edward Elgar: “Innovation under Uncertainty. The Future of Carbon-free Energy Technologies”.

Thanks to the participation of over 120 experts from thirty countries and to our exclusively female research team, we managed to gather an unprecedented collection of qualitative and quantitative estimates (more than 90 interviews were carried out). This effort produced a picture of the future for these 6 crucial technologies, that faithfully reports all the inherent uncertainties and disagreements that were elicited from experts of different technologies: Solar CSP and PV, biomass electricity, nuclear, advanced biofuels and batteries for vehicles. Each of the researchers involved has thus spent the best of four years interviewing more than one hundred energy experts, analyzing the collected data and searching for patterns.

Hidden behind this treasure of information is the enormous effort that each of these researchers has spent in carefully designing protocols, in chasing busy experts and attentively collecting their reflections and calculations, in keeping track and scanning through enormous amounts of information. To give you a sense of what this required, just imagine what each of the estimates for every of the technologies entailed, as summarized in the image below for the nuclear technology only.

Designing the survey required immense background work on the technology characteristics, on the current performance status and RD&D efforts. Further, a set of key European experts had first to be identified - taking care of covering multiple European countries and multiple backgrounds (e.g. private sector, academia, institutions) – and then to be contacted;  as you can easily guess, this required extreme motivation and determination on the side of researchers. Lastly, each interview would take place and a great deal of time would be devoted in helping the expert to think carefully about the future, about unexpected and less likely developments, about technological bottlenecks and criticalities. Most of the time, follow ups were required to make sure that we were reporting exactly what the expert had in mind. 

The book “Innovation under Uncertainty. The Future of Carbon-free Energy Technologies” will hopefully be extremely informative not only for policy makers, who draft future energy policies, but also for integrated assessment and energy modelers, who can use this information to characterize the future development of different technological options. This book could thus represent a first example to use structured expert judgment as a boundary practice connecting science and policy makers.

Increasing interest is now placed in the role of expert elicitation as a way to inform policy making, as the action Expert Judgment Network: Bridging the Gap Between Scientific Uncertainty and Evidence-Based Decision Making  (funded by the EU European Cooperation in Science and Technology) suggests.









Valentina Bosetti, Bocconi University, Fondazione Eni Enrico Mattei and Euro-Mediterranean Centre on Climate Change