Semester of Graduation

Winter 2023


Master of Environmental Studies (MES)


Department of Environmental Sciences

Document Type



To solve the Climate Crisis, a global Energy Transition is required. The primary contemporary tool for tackling these two massive problems is modeling, both biophysical climate models and IAMS (Integrated Assessment Models) which combine socioeconomic and technological progress with Climate Change. However, the proliferation and complexity of modeling systems make it difficult for most people to contribute substantively to solutions. In particular, stakeholders, policymakers, nonspecialists and activists require sufficient understanding of modeling to impact outcomes.

In this thesis, after summarizing the Climate Crisis and potential Energy Transition solutions, I review current modeling approaches. Models can be considered in terms of “modellability” of targets and transparency. Then I develop a list of 12 difficulties with these: the main problems being comprehensibility and usefulness to multiple stakeholders.

I then pose a simple question: “When will the US power sector have sufficient wind and solar power to replace fossil fuel (FF) usage?” I use three different modeling approaches. First, I develop a simple transparent spreadsheet approach. I find a simple solution (the year 2030 for both generation and capacity) based on past growth rates of solar and wind. However, other factors, such as critical mineral availability and grid expansion, may pose problems not so readily modellable. I run similar questions through intermediate and high-complexity-level (but less transparent) modeling systems.

These divergent modeling approaches are not satisfactory since no consensus answer is achieved. Finding that future outcomes are path-dependent is helpful, but not in itself actionable since the nature of the path is crucial. Therefore, I develop notes on how to approach each of the 12 problems with models. Moreover, I propose an online toolkit for activists to use and understand available modeling approaches to the Energy Transition.



Committee Chair

Reams, Margaret A.

Available for download on Wednesday, October 23, 2024