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LEAP 2020: SEI’s flagship tool for low emissions analysis gets major upgrade

Countries can now model energy storage and assess the health impacts of indoor air pollution for different groups including women and children.

Published on 14 May 2020

Photo: Charles Heaps / SEI

Planning for a low-carbon future is a complex task: one that not only requires sophisticated analyses, but also broad stakeholder involvement and a holistic approach that considers air pollution, health and ecosystem impacts, and other closely related issues.

LEAP has long helped countries tackle this challenge, providing a user-friendly and highly flexible system that boasts thousands of users worldwide and has become crucial to planning under the Paris Agreement. This week, the software tool gets a major upgrade – one that will help countries develop their nationally determined contributions (NDCs), meet Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and quantify the benefits of low emission development pathways.

The tool also gets a new name to reflect its broadened focus: the Low Emissions Analysis Platform.

LEAP developer and SEI Senior Scientist Charles Heaps explains LEAP’s new features and how they will help policymakers plan for a transition to a low-emission future.

Charles Heaps

Senior Scientist


What are the major new features in LEAP 2020?

There are a lot of changes in this new version, all of which have come from our observations of how people are using LEAP and what kind of support they need to improve the quality of their analyses. Our goal was to make those analyses more relevant to the decision-making process.

Highlights of the new features include:

  • Energy storage modeling, coupled with more detailed and flexible modeling of seasonal and time-of-day variations in energy demand and supply. This is vital for examining the potential for variable renewables like wind and solar to drive deep decarbonization.
  • A new super-fast optimization modeling framework called NEMO (Next Energy Modeling system for Optimization), which supports modeling of energy storage, enables larger optimization problems, and works with multiple free and commercial solvers, making it highly accessible to users and suitable for industrial-strength energy modeling problems. Beyond its performance benefits, NEMO is important because it is developed and supported in-house at SEI and is closely integrated with LEAP. As a result, not only will we be able to offer better support to users, but we will also be better positioned for future upgrades. NEMO is an important foundation for planned improvements to LEAP, such as the ability to do detailed network and power-flow modeling and integrated energy system optimization modeling.
  • Two new ways to visualize results for mitigation analysis: decomposition analyses based on the IPAT methodology and Marginal Abatement Cost Curves (MACCs). The former are important for giving people a deeper understanding of the underlying socio-economic factors driving emissions trends, while the latter is a standard technique that is widely employed when developing NDCs and low emission development strategies. MACCs help countries to prioritize the most cost-effective and ambitious mitigation measures. An exciting innovation is that we’ve extended the standard IPAT and MACC methodologies to make them useful in situations beyond GHG abatement planning. For example, a LEAP user can create a MACC to show the most cost-effective ways of avoiding air-pollution-related premature mortality. These enhancements make the methods useful for both NDC and SDG planning.
  • Ability to model the health impacts of indoor air pollution and to disaggregate results by age and gender. This helps show how energy strategies affect vulnerable groups including women and children and can contribute to helping meet broader Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
  • GIS-based mapping capabilities, including the ability to create geographic projections of likely hot spots for future emissions, which can be used to highlight the importance of environmental justice in energy planning.

“Our goal with this new version is to make sure that LEAP can produce results that can help to quantify the multiple benefits of low emission development pathways.”

LEAP is constantly evolving, with upgrades nearly every year. What makes this upgrade unique?

This new version has been 18 months in the making, so there are major upgrades in a lot of areas. However, all these changes have been done at the same time as ensuring that this version of LEAP is easier to use than past versions. We’ve worked hard to improve the usability and robustness of the tool.

It’s also fully backwards compatible with any models made in earlier versions of LEAP. For example, we’ve redesigned LEAP’s time slicing capabilities to make them much simpler to set up and also much more flexible, allowing users to study seasonal, weekly, daily and even hourly variations in demand and supply. This allows users to examine how energy systems can evolve to become smarter and able to absorb a high share of variable renewable energy sources such as wind and solar.

This new version of LEAP allows users to disaggregate results by age and genders. Why is this important? How will it help policy-making?

Our goal with this new version is to make sure that LEAP can produce results that can help to quantify the multiple benefits of low emission development pathways.

We wanted to go beyond showing the costs and abatement potentials for GHG emission reductions and to start quantifying wherever possible how different energy transition pathways might impact or benefit different groups in society, such as women and children. As much as possible we wanted to try and connect LEAP’s outputs to quantifiable Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) targets.

This makes LEAP useful to a broader spectrum of decision makers: not just energy and climate planners but also those working on transport, health, agriculture, and development planning. This is just the first stage of a broader effort we are making as part of the new SEI Initiative on Integrated Climate and Development Planning.

At least 38 countries used LEAP to develop their initial NDCs. Are there new capabilities in LEAP 2020 that will help countries as they develop their updated NDCs due this year?

Yes – nearly all of the new capabilities in LEAP will make it easier to use and more capable in helping those doing NDC analyses.

The new MACC reporting and IPAT-based decomposition analyses are good examples of two new analyses and visualizations that are directly relevant for those developing NDCs. We have already started making use of the new features in the work we have been doing to support Mexico as it updates its NDC.

Marginal Abatement Cost Curves (MACC) help countries to prioritize the most cost-effective and ambitious mitigation measures.

“Planning for a transition to a low-emission future… is not a luxury to be discarded as we try to rebuild from the COVID-19 pandemic, but an urgent imperative for avoiding the strong possibility of climate catastrophe.”

Right now, many countries are focusing their efforts and resources on the health and economic impacts of COVID-19. Do you expect that they will still focus on NDC process? Why should they?

We will soon be entering a period of economic rebuilding to address the major global depression caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. What shape this recovery effort takes will have huge implications for whether the world can meet the next major challenge to humanity: avoiding potentially catastrophic climate change.

These periods of economic rebuilding happen only very rarely. They present an opportunity to rethink our priorities and re-examine our values. This next period is most probably the last chance to avoid severe climate impacts. Without a fundamental redirection of our global development pathways, the remaining global GHG emissions budget compatible with keeping warming under 2°C (let alone 1.5°C) will be gone in just a few years.

Therefore, the concept of planning for a transition to a low-emission future remains as important as ever. It is not a luxury to be discarded as we try to rebuild from the COVID-19 pandemic, but an urgent imperative for avoiding the strong possibility of climate catastrophe.

Design and development by Soapbox.