Decision Making Tools for Renewable Energy 101
Helping communities achieve greater energy sovereignty is the principal goal of the MiCARES team. One way to do this is to assist community members in making the complex decisions necessary to transition their energy system. These decisions can involve a lot of factors, from which technologies to pursue, where and when to install them, how to pay for them, and what regulatory and legal hurdles must be overcome. Additionally, even if all of those issues can be addressed, people hold different values and cherish different traditions and so not everyone will agree on the best route forward.
One way to assist people in making these kinds of tough choices is by providing decision support, or decision support tools in particular. Decision support tools improve the process by which decisions are made, hopefully leading to better outcomes and more satisfied community members. These tools provide useful, easy ways to think about and visualize data, map resources and land uses, present histories and potential timelines of development, and think about and compare the consequences of different options by explicitly characterizing people’s values, cultures and traditions.
These tools rely on and incorporate decades of decision science: studies that examine how people make decisions, the common biases or mental shortcuts that lead to worse outcomes, and how to improve discussion between group-members and decision-making processes. For example, we know that some people often rely on their emotions to make many decisions--that can work great in a lot of cases, but less so when designing expensive energy systems that will exist for decades and must address an entire community’s values and concerns, both now and seven generations into the future. In those cases, we want decision-makers to incorporate the best available science and knowledge, and technical expertise, and incorporate stakeholders’ cultural values, traditions, and concerns into the decision-making process.
One way to do that is by using “Structured Decision Making,” or SDM. SDM has been shown numerous times and across a number of contexts to improve community-led environmental and energy management decisions. SDM relies on the six steps illustrated below, which decision makers can move through iteratively:
It’s a principle of both SDM and the MiCARES team that decision support tools be co-created, meaning they be developed by both community members and the MiCARES project team. Such a process not only improves decisions, but builds trust between community members, as well as between the community and the project team.