Transition to a Low Carbon Energy System and Energy Security- Synergies and Conflicts

Dr Bengt Johansson, FOI

Daniel K Jonsson, FOI

André Månsson, Environmental and Energy Systems Studies, Lund University

Lars J Nilsson, Environmental and Energy Systems Studies, Lund University

Måns Nilsson, Stockholm Environment Insitute

To avoid severe consequences of climate change a transition to a low-carbon energy system will be required. Energy security will be affected by such a transition. In this paper, we summarise the findings from a three year long research project that investigates the synergies and conflicts between a transition to a low carbon energy systems and maintaining or increasing energy security.

Energy security can be interpreted in several different ways. Our approach involves studying energy both as an object exposed to security threats, using concepts such as security of supply or security of demand, and the energy system as the subject in generating or enhancing insecurity and conflict (Johansson. 2013. Energy, 53, 199-205). The latter approach includes how energy can be used as a tool for achieving various political goals, how it could contribute to fuelling conflicts, and pose threats to food and environmental security. The transition to a low-carbon energy system is likely to have impact on all these aspects. Threats to energy security could be of physical, economic and political character. They can be the result of limited resource availability in the short or long time-perspective, disturbances in long-distance transport and local distribution and be a result of eg, accidents, lack of investments and antagonistic actions. High import dependency is often presented as a factor reducing security, but this is challenged by some liberal schools of international relations. Diversity of supply on the contrary is a factor often stressed as a factor reducing vulnerability.

Scenarios for the transition to a low carbon energy system may differ in details but generally consists of a number of building blocks: increased energy efficiency, renewable energy, carbon capture and storage (CCS), nuclear power, electrification and sometimes changes in consumption patterns. All these measures will have impacts on energy security although in different ways

Energy efficiency will improve many aspects of energy security. It will amongst others reduce the strain on limited energy resources, refining and distribution capacity but also reduce the vulnerability to energy price shocks. Some efficiency measures, e.g. improving building insulation, might reduce the vulnerability also to supply interruptions. In the long run, renewable energy has the potential to secure the supply of resources as it depends on flows rather than stocks. The fact that they are less geographically concentrated than fossil fuels improves prospects for reducing a country’s import dependency and could reduce states incentives to use flows to exert political extortion. However, it is by no means certain that a country will utilise its own resources in the first hand but could also choose to import less costly resources. Two factors that can pose challenges to security are potential effects of increased competition around biomass and technical challenges related to the integration of variable electricity production. Electrification of the transport sector (today almost totally dependent of petroleum) will increase the diversity with regard to the energy source supplied and could also increase end-use flexibility in the case of plug-in vehicles.

Although a low carbon energy system probably can have as high or higher level of energy security as current system, this will require significant investments in infrastructure, and that institutions are adapted to the new systems. Specific problems might, however, occur during the transition phase.

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