Energy Transitions : Toward an International Panel on Energy Science ?

A one week seminar

March 4th-9th 2018

Within the past century, the development of energy sources – mainly stock-energy ones like coal, oil and gas – has followed a rather simple economic path : based on increasing demand of energy, each source kept developing according to its own possibility, giving rise to a never-seen-before increase of wealth. In a world without limits, economic models may ignore physical constraints. The challenge of climate change and the possible occurrence of resource exhaustion (both in energy sources and key materials) require economic thinking to take into account the physical world. This has led to the emergence of bioeconomics – which the 2016 session of this series of les Houches meetings has acknowledged by placing the concept of EROI at the center of the study week. In the future, reducing greenhouse gas emissions down to zero by the end of the century will involve abstaining from using a large amount of fossil fuels, dealing with stock and flux energy sources together, substituting certain energy sources for others, and modifying various aspects of our energy consumption. This calls for a transdisciplinary effort, widely recommended but rarely attempted. Indeed, most quantitative models used in economy hardly satisfy the first two laws of thermodynamics, whereas inputs in energy and materials, as well as absorptions of wastes, should be made explicit. Entropy variations of the biosphere could then provide a universal metric for the anthropic pressure on the global ecosystem.

This meeting draws its inspiration from other international initiatives. The main interdisciplinary themes to be addressed during the session will be:


- Physical Constraints on energy technologies

      • EROI
      • Availability of raw materials
      • Energy externalities

- Energy and networks (cities, power grids,… )

  • Intermittence of supply and demand
  • Energy storage and power stability

- Physics-economy interface : thermodynamics and economy

  • History of physics/economy hybridization
  • History of energy transitions (Money and energy in the long run)
  • Stock-flow models and thermodynamics

- Spatial scaling of actions

  • Political and institutional context. How to implement action from COP21 to the local scale

About six sessions of 3 hours will be devoted to treat the main scientific themes. After introduction of the topic by an invited lecturer, several shorter talks will be given by participants ready to present their research. During the week, at least one poster session shall be organized to further the presentation of scientific work. Participants shall be encouraged to propose oral and/or poster presentations which will be analyzed and selected by the committees.

Finally, two or three 3-hour sessions will be devoted to working together in small groups in order to better define what should be the goals and organization of a potential “International Panel on Energy Science”.


      • Hervé BERCEGOL (CEA)
      • Marie DEGREMONT (Sciences Po)
      • Zeynep KAHRAMAN (The Shift Project)
      • Jacques TREINER (LIED, Université Denis Diderot)


    • Sébastien BALIBAR (ENS/LPA)
    • Yves BRÉCHET (Haut-Commissaire à l’Énergie Atomique)
    • Pascale BRACONNOT (CEA/LSCE)
    • François DAVIAUD (CEA/SPEC)
    • Gaël GIRAUD (AFD)
    • Céline GUIVARCH (CIRED)
    • Jean-Marc JANCOVICI (The Shift Project)
    • Patrick JOLIVET (ADEME)
    • Reiner KÜMMEL (Univ. Würzburg/Germany)
    • Nadia MAIZI (Mines/ParisTech)
    • Pedro PRIETO (Spain)

4th to 9th of March 2018
École de Physique des Houches,
Route de la Côte des Chavants,
74310 Houches (Les), France