reFUEL is a 5 year research project, funded by the European Research Council with a Starting Grant and hosted at the Institute for Sustainable Economic Development, BOKU University, Vienna. The main research objective of the project is to assess the role of trade in a future renewable energy world.

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Status quo

Recent techno-economic modelling studies indicate low intensities in trade of energy commodities between global regions in a future global low-carbon energy system, because deep greenhouse-gas emission cuts can be achieved in fully electrified renewable energy systems on a continental or country scale.


An alternative scenario

However, the existing modelling partly neglects potential drivers of globalization and may, therefore, wrongly project regionalization of energy systems. In particular, an increase in trade flows in the energy sector can be caused by

  • new, easily tradable, low-cost renewable fuels (e.g. solar & electric fuels)

  • global bio-physical variability of renewables (e.g. solar radiation and freshwater availability)

  • regional differences in land-use restrictions associated with the expansion of energy infrastructure.


What we do

We work on improving the understanding of how the spatial configuration of renewables in low-carbon energy systems is affected by these drivers. To this aim, we develop a cutting-edge, open-source global renewable energy model that combines elements of energy system and land-use modelling. It takes into account

  • bio-physical conditions for renewable fuel and electricity production,

  • social land availability restrictions,

  • a map of existing energy infrastructure at unprecedented level of detail.

Our approach integrates open data sources from public institutions and user-generated GIS data. Existing models for Europe and Brazil are used for validation. Qualitative interviews in local case studies complement the global model and increase our understanding of land-use restrictions on the local scale.

Our project has impacts beyond energy systems analysis. In particular, the identification of winning and losing regions in a global renewable energy system is highly relevant in climate change mitigation negotiations, and the generated spatial indicators and maps enable many potential applications.