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An adaptive low-dimensional model is considered to simulate time-dependent dynamics in nonlinear dissipative systems governed by PDEs. The method combines an inexpensive POD-based Galerkin system with short runs of a standard numerical solver that provides the snapshots necessary to first construct and then update the POD modes. Switching between the numerical solver and the Galerkin system is decided on the fly' by monitoring (i) a truncation error estimate and (ii) a residual estimate. The latter estimate is used to control the mode truncation instability and highly improves former adaptive strategies that detected this instability by monitoring consistency with a second instrumental Galerkin system based on a larger number of POD modes. The most computationally expensive run of the numerical solver occurs at the outset, when the whole set of POD modes is calculated. This step is improved by using mode libraries, which may either be generic or result from former applications of the method. The outcome is a flexible, robust, computationally inexpensive procedure that adapts itself to the local dynamics by using the faster Galerkin system for the majority of the time and few, on demand, short runs of a numerical solver. The method is illustrated considering the complex Ginzburg-Landau equation in one and two space dimensions. Copyright (c) 2015 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.