Sustainable energy futures: Methodological challenges in combining scenarios and participatory multi-criteria analysis

Katharina Kowalski*, Sigrid Stagl, Reinhard Madlener, Ines Omann

*Corresponding author for this work

Publication: Scientific journalJournal articlepeer-review


This paper analyses the combined use of scenario building and participatory multi-criteria analysis (PMCA) in the context of renewable energy from a methodological point of view. Scenarios have been applied increasingly in decision-making about long-term consequences by projecting different possible pathways into the future. Scenario analysis accounts for a higher degree of complexity inherent in systems than the study of individual projects or technologies. MCA is a widely used appraisal method, which assesses options on the basis of a multi-dimensional criteria framework and calculates rankings of options. In our study, five renewable energy scenarios for Austria for 2020 were appraised against 17 sustainability criteria. A similar process was undertaken on the local level, where four renewable energy scenarios were developed and evaluated against 15 criteria. On both levels, the scenario development consisted of two stages: first an exploratory stage with stakeholder engagement and second a modelling stage with forecasting-type scenarios. Thus, the scenarios consist of a narrative part (storyline) and a modeled quantitative part. The preferences of national and local energy stakeholders were included in the form of criteria weights derived from interviews and participatory group processes, respectively. Especially in the case of renewable energy promotion in Austria, the paper systematically analyses the potentials and limitations of the methodology (1) for capturing the complexity of decision-making about the long-term consequences of changes in socio-economic and biophysical systems and (2) for appraising energy futures. The paper concludes that assessing scenarios with PMCA is resource intense, but this methodology captures successfully the context of technology deployment and allows decision-making based on a robust and democratic process, which addresses uncertainties, acknowledges multiple legitimate perspectives and encourages social learning.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1063-1074
Number of pages12
JournalEuropean Journal of Operational Research (EJOR)
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 16 Sept 2009
Externally publishedYes


  • Energy scenarios
  • Participatory multi-criteria analysis
  • Renewable energy
  • Sustainable development

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