Energy in relation to globalisation and sustainable development
Focus on a particular aspect:
- Research Question:
What are the possible negative effects of the use of renewable energy sources (RES) on the energy security (security of energy supply) and how can they be prevented/minimalized?
- Thesis Statement:
In spite of being largely intertwined and codependent, use of RES and energy security contradict each other in certain cases (e.g. changeability of wind power). However, these negatives can be eliminated if an increased and systematic dialogue between businesses and governments, at both national and international level is led.
Energy security and renewable energy sources – not always mutually reinforcing each other: case of wind energy
- 1. Introduction
- 2. Positives of wind energy
- 3. Negatives of wind energy
- 4. Discussion about possible solutions
- 5. Conclusion
- 6. Notes and references
Meeting the energy needs of growing population and mitigating the impact of global climate change as a negative byproduct of globalization are two daunting challenges and largely intertwined goals. If the world wants to ensure the stability of reliable and affordable energy supplies in adequate quantities, it can not ignore climate change in the long term. Designing a future in which both concerns are met simultaneously means transforming the way we produce and use energy fundamentally – getting on the pathway of sustainability and energy efficiency, which leads to decrease in GHG emissions. Sustainable development in the area of energy is usually connected to renewable energy sources.
Renewable energy sources (RES) are widely supported in order to eliminate ecological costs of globalization, deter global warming and contribute to sustainable development. They are also believed to contribute to energy security. But in spite of their apparent codependency, there are cases when the use of RES and energy security contradicts each other - when the use of RES results in diminishing of security of energy supplies to households and industries if not managed properly.
The purpose of this article is to introduce the possible negative impacts of RES on energy security in more detailed way because they are not that publicly well-known and thus often neglected by policy-makers even though they could be eliminated not only by technical but also by political solution. In that order, I call for closing the communication gap between policymakers and businessmen/technicians, at both national and international level.
Because of the limited extent of this paper and broad scale of available RES, I will demonstrate my argument on the case of wind energy as energy with highest potential (even though it shares a lot of possible features with photovoltaic and solar energy in general). I will advocate for possible solutions at the same time in order to show that these obstacles are surmountable if a dialogue is launched and suitable political decisions for grid exchange adopted.
Positives of wind energy
Wind energy ranks among low carbon energy sources that can substantially reduce emissions (compared to fossil fuels). Its use contributes to diversification of energy portfolio and it is de facto CO2 free. In 2007, there was an increase of 31 % in new capacity installed compared with the 2006 market and its use has globally increased more than fivefold between 2000 and 2007 which makes it the fastest growing power source in the world even though it still produces only about 1 % of world energy use. It is caused by significant cost decrease as a result of technological improvements and increased penetration rates that have been made and costs are continuing to fall. It has also low operational costs that include only maintenance costs and the maintenance is simple and relatively cheap. Also the environmental impact of wind turbines themselves is not too high even though its significance grows for larger units.
From the above mentioned reasons and also thanks to favourable support schemes, a huge growth of wind energy was registered in Denmark, Spain and Germany in particular as well as in the Czech Republic (but also encountered with unfavourable public reaction in countries such as Great Britain).
Negatives of wind energy
On the other hand, the major problem of wind energy is that it is neither controllable nor reliable. Its volume depends on geographical location (usually dispersed smaller sources) and it changes seasonably. All in all, its availability fluctuates between 20 to 25 % of the year time. That would not be a concern itself because wind energy has never been meant to replace other sources of energy completely. However, the intermittency of wind not only increases electricity market volatility but its deployment to electricity networks also poses a threat of the grid destabilization.
For example, in combination with the results of energy market unbundling based on the idea of “copper plate” (on which energy can float wherever it wants and physical laws allow it and transmission system operators can not control it any more), the uncontrolled expansion of wind energy as easily starting resource with priority network access (represented by large production of German wind farms and penetration of wind power plants in Central Europe as a result of windy weather in particular) caused large system failures in November 2006 and eventually resulted in blackout in UCTE (the Union for the Co-ordination for the Transmission of Electricity) network.
To explain: Energy is naturally non-storable. The production of electricity thus has to equal the demand in order to keep stability of the power grid. But the unpredictable nature of wind energy makes it hard to balance consumed and generated electrical power. Transmission system operators have been since market liberalization (separation of production, transmission and distribution of energy) legally responsible for balancing these fluctuations in the transmission network. In that order, they buy so-called supportive services or spinning reserve from producers (as they are not allowed to own any energy sources by law). This spinning reserve (usually from fossil fuels) is used for balancing the surplus power. That makes it idle power which is de facto not CO2 free any more and contributes to higher costs of electric power. At the same time, it can lead to the above mentioned problems in management and operation of energy transfer and lower quality of electric energy supplies – or even to power outgages in case of worse scenario as the transmission grids are not ready for massive allocation of renewables because they were originally designed for monopolistic and conventional fossil fuels market.
Discussion about possible solutions
One of the possible solutions is technological one which rests in grid enforcement in combination with energy storage technology. Technologies for grid reinforcement exist (such as Flexible AC Transmission Systems – known as FACTS). The concern with storage facilities is that they all convert electricity to another form of energy (such as potential energy stored in hydro reservoirs, compressed air, chemical or kinetic energy) and the better ones such as Superconducting Magnetic Energy Storage (SMES) in spite of their fast response are not economically efficient and therefore are not used massively. Alternative to a strong grid interconnectivity and backup storage capacity would be a forecasting system that can predict the amount of energy that will be produced from wind over a period of 1 to 48 hours.
More R&D efforts need to be made to make these technologies deployable and cost-effective. However, technological breakthroughs should be promoted but not depended on. Moreover, it demands on policies to be crafted in order to promote it.
Whereas the regulatory and investment frameworks to facilitate market penetration of new energy technologies have been analyzed thoroughly, the instability of wind energy supplies and their dispersed localization have been both politically and financially underestimated and the low level of public awareness in this area is its proof. It has been proven that not only that the current regulatory framework does not support grid investments sufficiently. but it also obliges the transmission system operator (TSO) to buy the renewable energy even though it often has to be regulated as a surplus power by the spinning reserve often not coming from renewables – which heightens cost for the TSO and final customer, and contributes neither to sustainability nor to energy security.
However, Danish example of an energy policy that succeeded in stabilizing primary energy supply produced by wind power in almost 20% (although it took almost 30 years) shows that such feasible strategies can be developed. Local legislative framework involves a set of elements missing in other countries: the ability to avoid the excess electricity production in particular. They include partial responsibility of wind energy producers for the surplus power and make them plan the operation of power plants in more efficient way (e.g. by turning it off in case of surplus production that might destabilize the grid). Thanks to that, Denmark really utilizes wind power in order to reduce domestic CO2 production and exploit trade on the international electricity market rather than to be forced to make it futile. That confirms the fact that political solutions can bring effective results. Taking into account specific local conditions, appropriate measures should be implemented by bringing policymakers and technicians to one table in order to adopt suitable regulation strategies.
Our short study of pros and cons of wind energy has proven the fact that although the renewable energy sources use is generally consistent with the energy security goals, neglecting their negative aspects not only heightens the economic costs and lowers its effectivity but also threatens the security of electricity supply essential for satisfying demand and maintaining economic growth.
At the same time, solutions are available in both technological and regulatory area. Danish example shows that properly implemented political solutions can deal with climate change and contribute to energy security effectively before/even without bringing new technologies into practice. Governments should be aware of these and adopt suitable measures, respectively.
Notes and references
- Ladislaw, S., Zyla, K. & Childs, B. (2008) Managing the Transition to a Secure, Low-Carbon Energy Future. Washington: Centre for Strategic and International Studies.
- Global Wind Energy Outlook (2008)
- Bauen, A. (2006). Future energy sources and systems – Acting on climate change and energy security. Journal of Power Sources, 157(2), 893-201.
- Strachan, Peter A., Lal, David (2004) Wind Energy Policy, Planning and Management Practice in the UK: Hot Air or a Gathering Storm? Regional Studies, 38(5), 549-569.
- Šolc, Pavel (2007) Poruchy v provozu přenosových soustav v roce 2006 (aneb jak dál?). Pro-Energy, Vol. 1., No. 1, pp. 6-9.
- Belyuš, Marián (2008) Větrná energetika v energetickém mixu čr? Ano. Kolik? Přiměřeně. Pro-Energy, Vol. 2., No. 3, pp. 56-59.
- Lund, Henrik (2004) Large-scale integration of wind power into different energy systems.Denmark: Aalborg University
- Cole, S., Van Hertem, D., Meeus L. & Belmans R. (eds.) (2006) The influence of renewables and international trade on investment decisions in the grid of the future. Belgium: Katholieke Universiteit Leuven.
- Möhrlen, Corinna (2004) Uncertainty in Wind Energy Forecasting. University College Cork, National University of Ireland.
Connection to other globalization themes:
- The Corporations’ Response to Globalisation Problems
- Global environmental problems
- Global public goods and nature services
- The economic dimension of globalisation
- Political solutions: Global Government and Global Governance
- Conventionally considered negative aspects of globalisation
- An Overview of the Globalisation Problems
- Global Climate Change
Bauen, A. (2006). Future energy sources and systems – Acting on climate change and energy security. Journal of Power Sources, 157(2), 893-201.
The author works at the Imperial College of London, Centre for Energy Policy and Technology. In his article, he argues that strong synergies exist between tackling climate change and improving energy security and this fact should be reflected by policy-makers. He outlines that climate change and energy security pose challenges but those are not unsurpassable as clean and secure technologies are on the way thanks to reducing costs and evolving competitive landscape for these technologies – but those do still require not only more investment to R&D but also institutional preparation including development of new infrastructure; administrative and market regulations.
Hymel, M. (2007). Globalisation, environmental justice, and sustainable development: The case of oil. Macquarie Law Journal, 17, 125-173.
The paper written by the Professor of Law at the University of Arizona examines intersection between globalisation, environmental degradation and social justice in reference to the use of oil, analyzing both national and international policy measures and revealing schizophrenic policy approach to it. Two main ideas that Hymel puts emphasis on are: 1. In order to achieve sustainable development, we will have to move from oil to renewables sources of energy. 2. Kyoto Protocol had only limited success and nations thus should work harder on creation of new model of international cooperation that would include adopting legally binding covenents with enforcement powers.
Sawin, J. L. & Prugh, T. (2004). Mainstreaming renewable energy in the 21st century. Worldwatch Institute.
Research Associates at the Worldwatch Institute enumerate the policy measures that should be enacted by governments in order to assist the advance of renewable energy. Those include information and education dissemination, financial incentives, access to the market, public participation as well as consistent attitude and relocation of investment from conventional sources etc. However, it needs to be pointed out that it does not consider the problem in its complexity- e.g. how the cooperation with other sectors that can not be ignored should look, as well as the legal and security measures that would prevent problems with establishing new sources - bias of the environmental research organization thus need to be taken into account.