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Decarbonization of Student Transportation via Electric School Bus Transition

The webinar on “Decarbonization of Student Transportation via Electric School Bus Transition” offered a deep dive into the complexities and potential solutions surrounding the transition to electric school buses. The session, led by Joe Londa, Environmental SIG Leader for the System Dynamics Society, featured detailed discussions on the systemic challenges and opportunities in adopting electric school buses in New York State.

Overview and Context

Joe Londa began by providing context to the New York State mandate requiring all school districts to transition to emission-free transportation by 2035. He highlighted the enormity of the task, noting that New York has 731 school districts operating approximately 50,000 gas and diesel buses. Joe outlined the primary areas of concern: battery range, cost, and whether to outsource transportation services. He remarked, “The transition to emission-free transportation is mandated, but the pathway is fraught with challenges, particularly around battery range and costs.”

One of the innovative approaches discussed was involving high school students in the project to develop a transition model. As Joe explained, “Students are key stakeholders in transportation, and involving them hands-on in developing analytical models gives them new skills and a sense of ownership.” Ten students from five districts participated in creating a Google Sheets-based model to simulate various transition scenarios.

Key Takeaways from the Webinar

  1. Battery Range and Charging Infrastructure: The transition to electric school buses brings significant anxiety regarding battery range. Joe emphasized the critical nature of this concern: “Stranding students on the road is not an option.” The model developed included an analysis of route lengths and battery consumption to address these concerns.

  2. Cost Considerations: Electric school buses currently cost twice as much as their diesel counterparts. Joe noted, “Early adopters will pay the highest prices, but they will also reduce greenhouse gas emissions sooner.” The model incorporated cost forecast scenarios to help districts plan financially.

  3. Optimization of Bus Routes: The model also explored optimizing bus routes and sizes to ensure efficient use of electric buses. This analysis is crucial for districts with varying needs based on urban, suburban, and rural settings.

  4. Challenges in Data Collection: Despite efforts, obtaining detailed data from school districts proved difficult. Joe shared his frustrations: “Superintendents and transportation directors were not very responsive to students’ data requests, leading to some frustration.” This highlighted a significant barrier in collaborative efforts.

This seminar underscores the importance of collaborative efforts in addressing local challenges for global problems like climate change, with a particular focus on sustainable transportation solutions.

Watch the recording below

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About the Speaker

Joseph Londa, who after a distinguished 40-year career in technology at IBM and HCL Software, now runs the Gunks EcoLodge, a Net Zero Energy, fossil fuel-free retreat in the state of New York. Beyond his role as an innkeeper, Joseph is deeply committed to environmental sustainability, volunteering in his community to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and leading the Environmental SIG of the System Dynamics Society.

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How Did En-ROADS Get 755,000 users? Lessons on Modeling, Interface Design, and Facilitation

How Did En-ROADS Get 755,000 users? Lessons on Modeling, Interface Design, and Facilitation

Achieving widespread engagement is a significant challenge with a System Dynamics model. Yet, En-ROADS, the climate solutions simulator co-developed by Climate Interactive and MIT Sloan, has captivated hundreds of thousands of users globally. In this webinar led by Andrew Jones, John Sterman, and Florian Kapmeier, the team shared how their commitment to System Dynamics modeling principles, innovative interface design, and thoughtful facilitation created a global movement. The lessons learned are relevant for all System Dynamics modelers seeking to make a greater impact in their fields.

1. Modeling: Build Trust and Ensure Accuracy

“You have to have a rigorous, evidence-based model that is fully documented and tested every which way.” John Sterman

En-ROADS’ impact is built on a robust modeling foundation that adheres to rigorous standards of transparency and continuous testing. John Sterman underscores the importance of rigorous validation: “You have to have a rigorous, evidence-based model that is fully documented and tested every which way,” he states, highlighting the necessity for clear, accessible documentation that allows users to understand and trust the model’s operations.

The En-ROADS team enhances model reliability by calibrating past model behavior against historical data (by, e.g. Lazard, the IEA, etc.) and comparing future model behavior against the behavior of climate models used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), identifying discrepancies not only to prove correctness, but also to pinpoint areas needing improvement. Andrew Jones elaborates on this process: “We compare the model against historical data to understand where the discrepancies are and how we can improve. It’s not about proving the model’s correctness but about identifying areas for growth and improvement.”

For System Dynamics modelers looking to build confidence in the model, these practices are essential. Providing full transparency through comprehensive documentation and continuously validating models against industry benchmarks are crucial steps in establishing credibility. By adhering to these principles, modelers can ensure their models are technically robust and able to support decision-making.

2. Interface Design: Guide Users to Key Insights

“We designed the interface to lead a user to discover our modelers’ top insights without support.” Andrew Jones

En-ROADS’ interface is designed to ensure users reach key insights intuitively. Andrew emphasized the goal: “We designed the interface to lead a user to discover our modelers’ top insights without support.” The interface offers both a beginner mode for quick understanding and an advanced mode for users with more technical skills, providing detailed charts and additional assumptions. Dynamic visuals and animations transform static data into a narrative, making complex concepts accessible and engaging.

Within a few minutes exploring the En-ROADS interface, new users quickly grasp three critical insights:

  1.  “It’s still possible” – to bend the emissions curve and reduce average temperature increase.
  2. “There’s no silver bullet”, highlighting that no single solution can solve the climate crisis.
  3.  “Many solutions together”, emphasizing that combining multiple climate solutions is necessary to mitigate the climate crisis.

An interface designed around key insights helps users understand complexity. The ease of engaging with a new innovation—trialability—is crucial for initial adoption and fostering word of mouth. Yet, negative experiences can lead to adverse feedback, potentially stifling the adoption and diffusion of the model. Sterman emphasized: “if people try something and have a bad experience, they will generate unfavorable word of mouth that can squelch the adoption and diffusion of your model.”

John Sterman emphasizes the consequences of neglecting interface quality: “Suppose you have the world’s greatest model, but a terrible interface. Nobody learns anything, nothing will change, and you and everyone have wasted precious time and resources. That’s a failure mode.”  But he warns, “The opposite, though, is far more dangerous: a great interface with an underlying model that lacks integrity and hasn’t been carefully tested means you’re helping people learn things that are wrong and possibly downright harmful far more effectively than ever before.”

By focusing on intuitive design and rigorous validation, En-ROADS ensures that the simulation is insightful and reliable for understanding possible climate solutions. This strategy serves as a reference for those aiming at making their models both informative and influential. As a System Dynamics Modeler, which 2-3 key takeaways would you like users to learn from your model?

3. Facilitation: Create a Safe Space for Learning

Make sure that you create a safe room where participants can share and challenge their mental models to allow them to engage deeply and learn together.” – Florian Kapmeier

Facilitation is critical to En-ROADS’ global impact. Through experiences like the interactive En-ROADS Climate Workshop and the roleplaying game Climate Action Simulation Game, Climate Interactive effectively conveys the insights of the model by fostering environments that encourage deep learning and reflection. Florian Kapmeier emphasized the importance of these settings: “Make sure that you create a safe room where participants can share and challenge their mental models to allow them to engage deeply and learn together.” This approach allows participants to openly test their assumptions and understand the underlying dynamics of climate change.

Florian, referred to Andrew’s Top 10 Tips to Engage People with a System Dynamics Model,  highlighting one key aspect: By asking participants  to mentally the likely impact of a climate solution on the temperature before running a scenario in En-ROADS, participants reveal their existing mental models and learn more effectively by comparing their understanding with model results. “Learning happens when the theory of thinking is laid out and people have to make a choice.”

The commitment to creating a secure and open space for dialogue is foundational to the success of the engagements with En-ROADS. This facilitation strategy enhances the participants’ ability to understand complex concepts, and encourages them to apply these insights in practical and impactful ways. By ensuring that each session serves as a safe space for exploration and challenge, Climate Interactive fosters an environment where transformative learning and genuine understanding can occur.

Climate Action Simulation for IKEA, Australia

Community & Policy Engagement

Community building has been fundamental to extend En-ROADS’ reach globally. Thousands have completed the Mastering En-ROADS training program, which empowers facilitators to engage diverse audiences. The En-ROADS Climate Ambassador program further nurtures hundreds of facilitators who provide En-ROADS Workshops and Climate Action Simulations worldwide, ensuring a unified network of like-minded advocates. This well-structured support system ensures that these facilitators are equipped to spread their knowledge effectively, fostering a collaborative and impactful community.

In addition to training and support, Climate Interactive’s team emphasized the importance of engaging with policy makers, adapting communication to meet where they are in terms of climate change understanding. Presenting complex model data in an accessible manner is crucial for meaningful engagement. This strategy ensures that decision-makers receive information and are equipped to act on it.

The Power of System Dynamics

“System Dynamics is the most powerful way to engage other people in ways to improve system performance.” – John Sterman

The success of En-ROADS hinges on a commitment to the core principles of System Dynamics, paired with innovative interface design and effective facilitation strategies. This approach has educated a global audience on climate solutions and empowered them to act. John Sterman, reflecting on the broader implications, asserts, “System dynamics is the most powerful way to engage other people in ways to improve system performance”, underscoring the potential of System Dynamics to facilitate meaningful discussions and drive change across various domains.

Sterman reminded the audience that the discipline’s strength lies in its ability to convey complexity in a way that decision-makers can understand and act upon: “System Dynamics modelers need to invite people into the conversation, to join the collective effort and improve system performance together.” This collaborative spirit is reflected in the global network of facilitators, policymakers, and climate advocates brought together by En-ROADS.

As System Dynamics modelers, the challenge is to not only build robust models but also to design engaging interfaces, facilitate participatory workshops, and nurture a community of like-minded advocates. By doing so, modelers can extend their influence beyond their field and create meaningful change in the world.

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Energy Consumer Industries Look for Alternatives Under Climate Policy Regulations

Four industries – iron and steel, aluminum, paper and pulp, and chemicals – account for nearly half of the energy consumed by U.S. manufacturing industries and over 10 percent of total U.S. energy consumption, making them highly vulnerable to volatile energy prices. Millennium Institute and High Road Strategies collaborated on three connected study commissioned by the National Commission on Energy Policy, the Environmental Defense Fund and AFL-CIO Working for America Institute (WAI) and developed with support from industry association organizations, to examine how increased energy prices associated with comprehensive and mandatory cap-and-trade climate policy proposals currently being considered by the U.S. Congress would affect the competitiveness of these industries in the long term. The studies also examined the industries’ capabilities and opportunities to mitigate adverse cost impacts and improve their economic performance under different climate policy scenarios.

In short, the findings strongly suggest that over the long-run, technologies are available to enable energy-intensive industries to achieve sufficient efficiency gains to offset and manage the additional energy costs arising from a climate policy. However, the authors also strongly believe that the industries analyzed will need additional measures that both mitigate these cost impacts in the short-to-medium term, and policies that encourage and facilitate the transition of energy-reliant companies to a low-carbon future, while enhancing their competitiveness in global markets.

Findings of these studies being circulated starting from Aril 2009 are substantially contributing to the debate on the introduction of climate regulations, both in the US and abroad.

Client National Commission on Energy Policy, Environmental Defense Fund, WAI
Authors/Consultants Bassi AM, Yudken JS

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More Information

Yudken J.S. and Bassi A.M. (2009). Climate change and US Competitiveness. Issues in Science and Technology, Fall Issue.
Bassi A.M. and Yudken J.S. (2009). Potential challenges faced by the U.S. chemicals industry under a carbon policySustainability 1: 592-611. Special issue on Energy Policy and Sustainability.

Yudken J.S. and Bassi J.S. (2009). Climate policy and energy-intensive manufacturing: the competitiveness impacts of the American energy and security act of 2009. High Road Strategies and Millennium Institute, February 2010, Washington DC, USA. Prepared for the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF).

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Mauritius Government Takes Integrated Approach on Energy Policy

Under the leadership of the Ministry of Renewable Energy and Public Utilities of the Republic of Mauritius and with support from UNDP, the Millennium Institute (MI) has carried out an assignment on supporting formulation and evaluation of Mauritius’ longer term energy policy framework. The goal of this project is to empower the Ministry of Renewable Energy and Public Utilities, and the Government of Mauritius, with a flexible, integrated, dynamic and user-friendly uniquely customized simulation model that allows for the evaluation of energy policy proposals to make informed decisions on longer term policy planning. This model was jointly developed with a team of experts, including representatives from Ministry of Public Infrastructure, Land Transport and Shipping, the Central Electricity Board (CEB), the Electrical Services Division (ESD), the Mauritius Sugar Industry Research Institute (MSIRI), the Central Statistics Office (CSO), the Maurice Ile Durable (MID) Fund, the University of Technology Mauritius (UTM).

Because of its flexibility and ease of use, in addition to its integrated and dynamic nature, the Mauritius Model allows for a cross sectoral analysis of the impacts of the energy policy provisions, with simulations running from 1990 to 2025.

This is important when operating in such a rapidly changing environment and volatile time.

The project included continuous group modeling sessions and daily exchanges with key stakeholders, to end with a two-day workshop and with a presentation to the Deputy Prime Minister of the Republic of Mauritius.

Results of the analysis proved to be of considerable value to the Ministry of Renewable Energy and Public Utilities, and led to an update of the longer-term energy policy document later approved. The utilization of an integrated, cross sectoral, national development model also served to bring together several ministries, the private sector and universities to jointly analyze results, both opportunities and challenges, arising from the implementation of the energy strategy.

More information on this case can be found in Bassi A.M. (2009). Systems modeling of long term energy policy, Mauritius. Prepared for the Ministry of Renewable Energy and Public Utilities, Republic of Mauritius, and UNDP Country Office Mauritius and Seychelles, Port Louis.

Client Ministry of Renewable Energy and Public Utilities, Mauritius
Authors/Consultants Bassi AM, Bainac K, Bokhoree C, Deenapanray P

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Join us for the Monthly Meeting of the Student Chapter at the System Dynamics Society! This virtual gathering provides an excellent opportunity for students passionate about system dynamics to connect, share ideas, and collaborate on projects. Access the session via...