IRE at EXPO 2017: Defining an energy policy – A game for thinking

On July 10th to 12th the Institute for Economic Research (IRE) set up its Energy Game at the Swiss pavilion at EXPO 2017 Astana - Future Energy.

The Energy Game challenges the participants by letting them think at how energy production affects our lives and the environment, but also at how our beliefs shape our decisions and opinions on this topic.

Almost 600 visitors participated in the Game during the three days. Prof. Rico Maggi and PhD student Alessandra Motz also had the pleasure of welcoming in the Game the Federal Councilor Ueli Maurer and the Genevan State Councilor Pierre Maudet with their delegations, and briefly discussing with them topics which are crucial to the future of Switzerland.

Participants to the Energy Game choosing their preferred energy sources (Copyright © DFAE/PRS)

 

The Energy Game

The Energy Game consisted of four steps, in which the participants were guided by the IRE representatives and Swiss pavilion staff:

  1. Without any prior information and constraint, the participants chose the energy sources they liked most for generating electricity. They expressed their choice by sharing a glass full of pebbles among six jars, each representing one energy source. The available sources were: natural gas, coal, nuclear energy, hydroelectricity, solar energy, and wind,
  2. They were then able to see what the previous participants had chosen in terms of energy mix, and the greenhouse gas emissions and generation costs resulting from those choices. Together with the Game organizers, the participants compared these figures with emissions and generation costs in some countries, and received information on the emissions and costs associated to each primary energy source according to the latest available estimates,
  3. The participants were then asked whether they had changed their mind after discussing and learning about electricity production and its consequences. They were invited to choose again their preferred energy mix, by sharing a new glass of pebbles into a new series of jars, one for each primary energy source,
  4. Finally, the participants were able to see how the previous participants had shared their pebbles in the second vote, and compare emissions and costs resulting from this mix not only to real-world data, but also to the results of the first vote.

By comparing the results of the first and second vote, the participants were able to see how much preferences and decisions may change once we learn something about a subject. A better knowledge makes us more aware of the consequences and trade-offs of our choices. We may learn that similar goals can be achieved in different ways, with different environmental and economic impacts, or we may consider reaching a compromise between different goals.

Results of the Game

The graphs below collect the outcomes of the first and second votes in the three days in which the Energy Game took place. The first graph compares the energy mix resulting from the first and second votes to the ones observed in Switzerland, Kazakhstan, and the European Union. The second graph compares the generation costs and emissions resulting from these energy mixes.

In the first vote, the participants asked on average for a very large contribution from renewable energy sources, among which mostly solar and wind. Conventional energy sources accounted for less than 20% of the mix: fossil fuels as natural gas and coal contributed by 8% and 4%, and nuclear energy by 7%. The emissions resulting from this mix were slightly below 100 g CO2 eq./kWh, much below what is observed in Kazakhstan and in the European Union. On the other hand, this choice resulted in a generation cost around 12.4 cent USD/kWh, well above current levels in most countries.

In the second vote participants still asked for a cleaner electricity production. However, their choices were balanced in order to include a larger contribution of hydroelectric and nuclear energy, at the expense of sun and wind. The share of fossil fuels also experienced a slight reduction, with coal gaining one percentage point at the expense of the cleaner, but more expensive natural gas. The mix resulting from the second vote achieved a small reduction in terms of emissions (92 g CO2 eq./kWh) and a larger drop in terms of costs (11.6 cent USD/kWh) as compared to that resulting from the first vote.

Food for thought

On average, both votes witness a strong sensitivity toward environmental issues, and a strong interest in new renewable energy sources, which are perceived as underexploited in Kazakhstan. Although ready to bear an increase in generation costs in order to achieve a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, the participants were however ready to reconsider their initial preferences, and accept a different mix yielding a small cost reduction.

Thank you!

The IRE would like to thank all the EXPO visitors who participated in the Energy Game, as well as the Swissnex Astana and Swiss pavilion staff, who provided excellent organization and support.

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