Nexus vs. silo investment planning under uncertainty

Raphaël Payet-Burin*, Mikkel Kromann, Silvio Pereira-Cardenal, Kenneth Marc Strzepek, Peter Bauer-Gottwein

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


Water, energy, and agricultural infrastructure investments have important inter-relations fulfilling potentially competing objectives. When shaping investment plans, decision makers need to evaluate those interactions and the associated uncertainties. We compare planning infrastructure under uncertainty with an integrated water-energy-food nexus framework and with sector-centered (silo) frameworks. We use WHAT-IF, an open-source hydroeconomic decision support tool with a holistic representation of the power and agriculture sectors. The tool is applied to an illustrative synthetic case and to a complex planning problem in the Zambezi River Basin involving reservoirs, hydropower, irrigation, transmission lines and power plant investments. In the synthetic case, the nexus framework selects investments that generate more synergies across sectors. In sector-centered frameworks, the value of investments that impact multiple sectors (like hydropower, bioenergy, and desalinization) are under- or overestimated. Furthermore, the nexus framework identifies risks related to uncertainties that are not linked to the investments respective sectors. In the Zambezi river case, we find that most investments are mainly sensitive to parameters related to their respective sectors, and that financial parameters like discount rate, capital costs or carbon taxes are driving the feasibility of investments. However, trade-offs between water for irrigation and water for hydropower are important; ignoring trade-offs in silo frameworks increases the irrigation expansion that is perceived as beneficial by 22% compared to a nexus framework that considers irrigation and hydropower jointly. Planning in a nexus framework is expected to be particularly important when projects and uncertainties can considerably affect the current equilibrium. Copyright © 2021 Payet-Burin, Kromann, Pereira-Cardenal, Strzepek and Bauer-Gottwein.
Original languageEnglish
Article number672382
JournalFrontiers in Water
Number of pages18
Publication statusPublished - 2021


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