Energy and Complex Systems Dynamics

  • Nicola LabancaEmail author
Part of the Green Energy and Technology book series (GREEN)


This chapter discusses the role played by energy within complex systems dynamics and compares this role to that played by information. In this respect, it briefly shows how information theory can confirm and incorporate thermodynamics and illustrates how given energy flow principles become unifying principles allowing studying the evolution of any complex system under a same phenomenology. This evolution can be characterized in terms of a proper balance to be achieved between improvements in the efficiency whereby systems inputs are converted into outputs (in a situation of resources scarcity) and a diversification/intensificaton in systems outputs production (in a situation of resources abundance). The ongoing transition to renewables is then presented as a very relevant reinforcing factor of the large-scale construction of complex systems and of the manifestation of the above mentioned dynamics. These considerations are employed by the author to discuss how the role of energy efficiency policies, although still fundamental, becomes ultimately functional to an intensification and diversification of outputs production in the age of renewables and how new types of policies have therefore to be devised and implemented to ensure the sustainability of the ongoing energy transition. To do so, it is necessary to acknowledge that the construction of complex systems is based on a particular and very abstract commodification of natural resources and human activities. This construction relies on the assumption that functions accomplished by people within societies can be reproduced and sustained through an underlying network wherein energy, matter, information and monetary values circulate and it reflexively validates this assumption by contributing to the materialization of this network and by creating a situation of increased dependency thereon. The final part of the chapter is therefore dedicated to discuss how new policies questioning this assumption and allowing escaping the increasing dependence on complex systems dynamics of growth can be devised.


Renewable Energy Source Energy Efficiency Improvement Complex System Dynamic Energy Network Power Output Increase 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


  1. Allen, T.F.H., J.A. Tainter, and T.W. Hockstra. 2003. Supply-Side Sustainability. Columbia: Columbia University Press. ISBN 0-231-10586-X.Google Scholar
  2. Bateson, G. 1972. Steps to an Ecology of Mind. Chicago: The University Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  3. Bateson, G. 1979. Mind and Nature: A Necessary Unity (Advances in Systems Theory, Complexity and the Human Sciences). New York: Hampton Press. ISBN 978-0-553-34581-0.Google Scholar
  4. Boulding, Kenneth E. 1981. Evolutionary Economics. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage Publications.Google Scholar
  5. Chaisson, E. J. 2001. Cosmic Evolution. The Rise of Complexity in Nature. Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  6. Diaz-Maurin, F., and M. Giampietro. 2013. Complex Systems and Energy. Reference Module in Earth Systems and Environmental Sciences.Google Scholar
  7. Fischer-Kowalski, M., and W. Hüttler. 1998. Society’s Metabolism: The Intellectual History of Material Flow Analysis Part II: 1970-1998. Journal of Industrial Ecology 2S(Jan.): 107–137.Google Scholar
  8. Georgescu-Roegen, N. 1971. The Entropy Law and the Economic Process. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Giampietro, M., K. Mayumi, and A.H. Sorman. 2013. Energy Analysis for a Sustainable Future: Multi-Scale Integrated Analysis of Societal and Ecosystem Metabolism. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  10. Glansdorff, P., and I. Prigogine. 1971. Thermodynamics Theory of Structure. Stability and Fluctuations. New York.: Wiley.zbMATHGoogle Scholar
  11. Goerner, S.J., B. Fath, and D. Fiscus. 2015. Using Energy Network Science (ENS) to Connect Resilience with the Larger Story of Systemic Health and Development. Article available at
  12. Hannon, B. 1973. The Structure of Ecosystems. Journal of Theoretical Biology 41: 535–546.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. International Labour Office (ILO). 2013. Providing Clean Energy and Energy Access Through Cooperatives. Geneva: Cooperatives Unit (ENT/COOP), Green Jobs Program. ISBN 978-92-2-127528-2.Google Scholar
  14. Jacobs, J. 2000. The Nature of Economies. New York: Random House.Google Scholar
  15. Jørgensen, S.E. 1992. Integration of Ecosystem Theories: A Pattern. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Kluwer Academic Publishers.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Labanca, N., and P. Bertoldi. 2013. First Steps Towards a Deeper Understanding of Energy Efficiency Impacts in the Age of Systems. In: Proceedings ECEEE 2013 Summer Study on Energy Efficiency, Vol. 4, pp. 2189–2200.Google Scholar
  17. Labanca, N., I. Maschio, and P. Bertoldi. 2015. Evolutions in Energy Conservation Policies in the Time of Renewables. In: Proceedings ECEEE 2015 Summer Study on Energy Efficiency, Vol. 4, pp. 2075–2086.Google Scholar
  18. Lambing, J. 2012. Electricity Commons—Toward a New Industrial Society. In The Wealth of the Commons—A World Beyond Market and State, ed. D. Bollier, and S. Helfrich, 57. Amherst-Florence: Levellers.Google Scholar
  19. Leontief, W. 1951. The Structure of the American Economy, 1919-1939. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  20. Lindeman, R.L. 1942. The trophic dynamic aspect of ecology. Ecology 23: 399–418.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Lotka, A.J. 1922. Contribution to the Energetics of Evolution. In Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences, Vol. 8, pp. 147–151.Google Scholar
  22. Morowitz, H.J. 1979. Energy Flow in Biology. Woodbridge, CT.: Ox Bow Press.Google Scholar
  23. Newman, P., T. Beatley, and H. Boyer. 2009. Resilient Cities: Responding to Peak Oil and Climate Change. Washington, DC: Island Press.Google Scholar
  24. Nicolis, G., and I. Prigogine. 1977. Self-Organization in Non-Equilibrium Systems. New York: Wiley.zbMATHGoogle Scholar
  25. Odum, H.T. 2007. Environment, Power and Society for the 21st Century: The Hierarchy of Energy. New York: Columbia University Press.Google Scholar
  26. Odum, H.T., and R.C. Pinkerton. 1955. Time’s Speed Regulator: The Optimum Efficiency for Maximum Power Output in Physical and Biological Systems. American Scientist 43: 331–343.Google Scholar
  27. Ostrom, E. 1990. Governing the Commons: The Evolution of Institutions for Collective Action. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  28. Polimeni, J.M., K. Mayumi, M. Giampietro, and B. Alkott. 2009. The Myth of Resource Efficiency. Earthscan: The Jevons Paradox.Google Scholar
  29. Prigogine, I. 1961. Introduction to Thermodynamics of Irreversible Processes. 2nd revised edition. New York: Interscience Publisher.Google Scholar
  30. RAENG. 2016. Living without Electricity. One City’s Experience of Coping with Loss of Power. ISBN 978-1-909327-26-9. Report available at
  31. Ruzzenenti, F., and R. Basosi. 2008a. The Rebound Effect: An Evolutionary Perspective. Ecological Economics 67 (2008): 526–537.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Ruzzenenti, F., and R. Basosi. 2008b. The Role of the Power/Efficiency Misconception in the Rebound Effect’s Size Debate: Does Efficiency Actually Lead to a Power Enhancement? Energy Policy 36 (2008): 3626–3632.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Schneider, E.D., and J.J. Kay. 1994. Life as a Manifestation of the Second Law of the Thermodynamics. Mathemaitical and Computer Modelling 19: 25–48.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Tainter, J.A., and T.W. Patzek. 2012. Drilling Down. The Gulf Oil Debacle and Our Energy Dilemma. Berlin: Springer.Google Scholar
  35. Trentmann, F. 2009. Disruption is Normal: Blackouts, Breakdowns, and the Elasticity of Everyday Life. In Time Consumption and Everyday Life: Practice, Materiality, and Culture, ed. Elizabeth Shove, Frank Trentmann, and Richard Wilk. Oxford: Berg.Google Scholar
  36. Weaver, W. 1948. Science and Complexity. Scientific American 36: 536–544.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.European Commission, Directorate-General Joint Research CentreUnit C.02 Energy Efficiency and RenewablesIspraItaly

Personalised recommendations