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 natural gas – has followed a rather simple economic path: based on an increasing demand for energy, each source developed steadily, allowing 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 possibility 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 was the subject of 2016 session of this series of les Houches meetings. Then the concept of EROI was placed at the center of the study week. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions down to zero by 2050 will involve abstaining from using a large amount of fossil fuels. By that time, we will have to manage stock and flux energy sources together, to substitute certain energy sources for others, and to modify energy consumption patterns. 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 waste assimilation by the environment, should be made explicit. Entropy variations of the biosphere could then provide a universal metric for the anthropic pressure on the global ecosystem.

The main interdisciplinary themes to be addressed during the session will be:
– Physical constraints on energy technologies

      • Availability of raw materials
      • Energy externalities
      • EROI

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

  • Energy storage and power stability
  • Intermittence of supply and demand
  • Multi-energy networks

– Physics-economy interface: thermodynamics, statistical physics, social statistics

  • 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

  • Financial mechanisms for the energy transition
  • How to implement action from the international level (COP21 and the Paris agreement) to the local scale
  • Political and institutional context

Morning sessions will be devoted to lectures presenting thoroughly the main issues. Afternoon sessions will be dedicated to short talks and poster presentations submitted by participants and selected by the committees.
Evening sessions and Thursday afternoon will be devoted to working groups to define what could be the goals and organization of a potential “International Panel on Energy Science”.

A word about the location: les Houches School of Physics has been welcoming physicists from around the world since 1951. The School has seen the greatest names in modern physics training young researchers at the start of their careers, some of whom have since won Nobel prizes. The School perpetuates a tradition of excellence, while continuing to adapt to the evolution of science. The Science-and-Energy series, which gather many disciplines, including physicists, economists, political scientists, historians of technologies, etc. is part of this adaptation.
Les Houches is a small village at the entrance of Chamonix Valley, a well-known winter skiing area. The program allows participants to have free time between 12:30 and 4 pm to enjoy, in March, a snowy environment, which includes the Mont Blanc.


      • Hervé BERCEGOL (CEA)
      • Marie DEGREMONT (France Stratégie/Sciences Po)
      • Zeynep KAHRAMAN (The Shift Project)
      • Jacques TREINER (LIED, Université Paris 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