Building a model

In short, a Calliope model works like this: supply technologies can take a resource from outside of the modeled system and turn it into a specific energy carrier in the system. The model specifies one or more locations along with the technologies allowed at those locations. Transmission technologies can move energy of the same carrier from one location to another, while conversion technologies can convert one carrier into another at the same location. Demand technologies remove energy from the system, while storage technologies can store energy at a specific location. Putting all of these possibilities together allows a modeller to specify as simple or as complex a model as necessary to answer a given research question.

In more technical terms, Calliope allows a modeller to define technologies with arbitrary characteristics by “inheriting” basic traits from a number of included base tech groups – supply, supply_plus, demand, conversion, conversion_plus, and transmission. These groups are described in more detail in List of abstract base technology groups.


The terminology defined here is used throughout the documentation and the model code and configuration files:

  • Technology: a technology that produces, consumes, converts or transports energy
  • Location: a site which can contain multiple technologies and which may contain other locations for energy balancing purposes
  • Resource: a source or sink of energy that can (or must) be used by a technology to introduce into or remove energy from the system
  • Carrier: an energy carrier that groups technologies together into the same network, for example electricity or heat.

As more generally in constrained optimisation, the following terms are also used:

  • Parameter: a fixed coefficient that enters into model equations
  • Variable: a variable coefficient (decision variable) that enters into model equations
  • Set: an index in the algebraic formulation of the equations
  • Constraint: an equality or inequality expression that constrains one or several variables

Files that define a model

Calliope models are defined through YAML files, which are both human-readable and computer-readable, and CSV files (a simple tabular format) for time series data.

It makes sense to collect all files belonging to a model inside a single model directory. The layout of that directory typically looks roughly like this (+ denotes directories, - files):

+ example_model
    + model_config
        - locations.yaml
        - techs.yaml
    + timeseries_data
        - solar_resource.csv
        - electricity_demand.csv
    - model.yaml
    - overrides.yaml

In the above example, the files model.yaml, locations.yaml and techs.yaml together are the model definition. This definition could be in one file, but it is more readable when split into multiple. We use the above layout in the example models and in our research!

Inside the timeseries_data directory, timeseries are stored as CSV files. The location of this directory can be specified in the model configuration, e.g. in model.yaml.


The easiest way to create a new model is to use the calliope new command, which makes a copy of one of the built-in examples models:

$ calliope new my_new_model

This creates a new directory, my_new_model, in the current working directory.

By default, calliope new uses the national-scale example model as a template. To use a different template, you can specify the example model to use, e.g.: --template=urban_scale.

Model configuration (model)

The model configuration specifies all aspects of the model to run. It is structured into several top-level headings (keys in the YAML file): model, techs, locations, links, and run. We will discuss each of these in turn, starting with model:

    name: 'My energy model'
    timeseries_data_path: 'timeseries_data'
        power: 0
    subset_time: ['2005-01-01', '2005-01-05']

Besides the model’s name (name) and the path for CSV time series data (timeseries_data_path), model-wide constraints can be set, like reserve_margin.

To speed up model runs, the above example specifies a time subset to run the model over only five days of time series data (subset_time: ['2005-01-01', '2005-01-05'])– this is entirely optional. Usually, a full model will contain at least one year of data, but subsetting time can be useful to speed up a model for testing purposes.

Technologies (techs)

The techs section in the model configuration specifies all of the model’s technologies. In our current example, this is in a separate file, model_config/techs.yaml, which is imported into the main model.yaml file alongside the file for locations described further below:

    - 'model_config/techs.yaml'
    - 'model_config/locations.yaml'


The import statement can specify a list of paths to additional files to import (the imported files, in turn, may include further files, so arbitrary degrees of nested configurations are possible). The import statement can either give an absolute path or a path relative to the importing file.

The following example shows the definition of a ccgt technology, i.e. a combined cycle gas turbine that delivers electricity:

        name: 'Combined cycle gas turbine'
        color: '#FDC97D'
        parent: supply
        carrier_out: power
        resource: inf
        energy_eff: 0.5
        energy_cap_max: 40000  # kW
        energy_cap_max_systemwide: 100000  # kW
        energy_ramping: 0.8
        lifetime: 25
            interest_rate: 0.10
            energy_cap: 750  # USD per kW
            om_con: 0.02  # USD per kWh

Each technology must specify some essentials, most importantly a name, the abstract base technology it is inheriting from (parent), and its energy carrier (carrier_out in the case of a supply technology). Specifying a color is optional but useful for using the built-in visualisation tools (see Analysing a model).

The constraints section gives all constraints for the technology, such as allowed capacities, conversion efficiencies, the life time (used in levelised cost calculations), and the resource it consumes (in the above example, the resource is set to infinite via inf).

The costs section gives costs for the technology. Calliope uses the concept of “cost classes” to allow accounting for more than just monetary costs. The above example specifies only the monetary cost class, but any number of other classes could be used, for example co2 to account for emissions.

By default the monetary cost class is used in the objective function, which seeks to minimize total costs. Additional cost classes can be created simply by adding them to the definition of costs for a technology. To use an alternative cost class and/or sense (minimize/maximize) in the objective function, the objective_options parameter can be set in the run configuration, e.g. objective_options: {'cost_class': 'emissions', 'sense': 'minimize'}.

Allowing for unmet demand

For a model to find a feasible solution, supply must always be able to meet demand. To avoid the solver failing to find a solution, you can ensure feasibility:

    ensure_feasibility: true

This will create an unmet_demand decision variable in the optimisation, which can pick up any mismatch between supply and demand, across all energy carriers. It has a very high cost associated with its use, so it will only appear when absolutely necessary.


When ensuring feasibility, you can also set a big M value (run.bigM). This is the “cost” of unmet demand. It is possible to make model convergence very slow if bigM is set too high. default bigM is 1x10 9, but should be close to the maximum total system cost that you can imagine. This is perhaps closer to 1x10 6 for urban scale models.

Run configuration (run)

The only required setting in the run configuration is the solver to use:

    solver: glpk
    model: plan

the most important parts of the run section are solver and mode. A model can run either in planning mode (plan) or operational mode (operate). In planning mode, capacities are determined by the model, whereas in operational mode, capacities are fixed and the system is operated with a receding horizon control algorithm.

Possible options for solver include glpk, gurobi, cplex, and cbc. The interface to these solvers is done through the Pyomo library. Any solver compatible with Pyomo should work with Calliope.

For solvers with which Pyomo provides more than one way to interface, the additional solver_io option can be used. In the case of Gurobi, for example, it is usually fastest to use the direct Python interface:

    solver: gurobi
    solver_io: python


The opposite is currently true for CPLEX, which runs faster with the default solver_io.

Further optional settings, including debug settings, can be specified in the run configuration.


To make it easier to run a given model multiple times with slightly changed settings or constraints, for example, varying the cost of a key technology, it is possible to define and apply “override groups” in a separate file (in the above example, overrides.yaml):

    model.subset_time: ['2005-01-01', '2005-01-31']
    model.subset_time: ['2005-02-01', '2005-02-31']

Each group is given by a name (above, run1 and run2) and any number of model settings – anything in the model configuration can be overridden by an override group. In the above example, the two runs specify different time subsets, so would run an otherwise identical model over two different periods of time series data.

One or several override groups can be applied when running a model, as described in Running a model. They can also be used to generate scripts that run a Calliope model with slightly changed settings many times, either sequentially, or in parallel on a high-performance cluster.

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