spine toolbox
NEWS Published On 13 Sep 2023

Workflow management can significantly improve the quality of the energy system modelling process

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Spine Toolbox offers easy workflow, data and scenario management for energy system modelling and beyond. The new release version 0.7 was published on Friday August 25th 2023 offering improved usability, new features and enhanced reliability.

What is workflow management?

Workflow management is needed to link data sources, data pre-processing, modelling tools, model outputs, and result post-processing together. Spine Toolbox offers a graphical user interface that works with different types of data sources and modelling tools. It can be used to create models compatible with your modelling tool, automatically import or manually edit the data, create scenarios and share the workflow with the project team. Once constructed, the workflow can be maintained, edited and used without touching the code. The Spine Toolbox software is not specific to any data format, modelling software or even energy system modelling – it can be customized for a wide range of use cases.


Why is workflow management important in energy system modelling?

As energy systems and modelling needs become increasingly complex, the process of energy system modelling – not just the quality of energy modelling tools or data – needs attention. In addition to the complexity of operating a modelling software (understanding the mathematics, code, data and energy system constraints), the modelling process includes several other complexities. These include:

  • Processing data to a suitable form and keeping data up to date. To automatize this, additional coding or software is often needed.
  • Setting up data transfers e.g. from statistical data source to editing format, from editing format to a format readable by the model, from format generated by the model to editable format and on to plotting. Again, additional coding or software is needed.
  • Managing scenarios. Controlling different combinations of alternative values to run dozens or even hundreds of scenarios requires a systematic approach.
  • Sharing, documenting and explaining your work to others. Poor structuring of the modelling process often leaves the work practically unusable for further work.

Maintaining a better process for energy system modelling can significantly improve both the accuracy, and the replicability and accessibility of your modelling work. Learning to use a workflow management software on top of the other modelling challenges may seem like extra effort in the beginning, but it saves time and improves quality in the long run.


What kind of software Spine Toolbox is?

Spine Toolbox was built as an EU project ‘Spine’ that started in 2017. The ambitious goal of the project was to create a fully open and general workflow management software that could be used for any modelling need with any modelling tool. While there still remains some work for supporting any modelling need with any tool, after six years of active development, Spine Toolbox is fully functional and demonstration ready. New features and usability enhancements are continuously added, and for now it works best with energy system optimization models like SpineOpt and IRENA FlexTool. But as demonstration experience from other use cases and tools comes along, new hurdles are overcome. The Spine Toolbox runs on Python, and allows model building using a generic data structure of user-defined entity classes and parameters. Spine Toolbox is free to use and customize – now and always.

What has been improved in version 0.7 and what is the current development status?

Version 0.7 is part of an ongoing development, making several usability enhancements, adding functionalities and bug fixes. We are currently working on releasing version 0.8 with more profound changes in the data structure and APIs of Spine Toolbox. One of the largest bottlenecks continues to be the speed of data processing, and this is one of the current major development areas. Up to date change log and issues we are working on can be found on the Spine Toolbox GitHub page. We invite you to have a look at our work so far and follow up on our progress!
Spine Toolbox is distributed under GNU Lesser General Public License (LGPL) license, allowing for free installation, use for all purposes and customization.

Read more, install and join the Spine community on Github.

Read Kiviluoma et al. (2022) Spine Toolbox: A flexible open-source workflow management system with scenario and data management