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Energy trilemma: the framework for a more sustainable energy future

By Pierre Gadonneix
Chairman, World Energy Council

The energy world is at a tipping point. The myriad energy challenges the world faces are being addressed by the introduction, at an unprecedented rate, of new technologies and game-changing resources. However, there are three cornerstone issues that we must effectively tackle if a more sustainable energy mix is to be delivered: energy security, energy equity and environmental sustainability. At the World Energy Council, we call these challenges the ‘energy trilemma’.

energy-wec-2The three facets of our ‘energy trilemma’ are as follows:

Energy security

Secure energy enables economic and social development. It gives populations the means to communicate, work, travel and live. It means that suppliers can deliver energy securely and buyers can obtain resources at a reasonable cost. Energy security is necessary to fuel growth with competitive energy and can eventually boost jobs and innovation. It is a fundamental driver of economic development and greater energy independence. At its most acute, as history shows, geopolitical tensions rise when energy sources are in doubt or opaque and a more security-conscious energy mindset can help to alleviate potential risks. Energy security is also about dissipating geopolitical tension through defining ownership and trade routes more clearly.

Energy equity

Energy sustainability is about widening access to energy for under-provisioned communities, enabling access to education, health, and other vital services. About 1.2 billion people in the world do not have access to modern energy supplies. This situation is unsustainable and will only be addressed, especially in developing markets, if chronic underinvestment is reversed and affordable, secure energy is delivered into communities historically not served by energy or social infrastructure.

Environmental sustainability

The solutions we agree upon have to enable us to take a more progressive approach to protecting our climate and environment. Energy efficiency and alternative low-carbon energy technologies need to be promoted and implemented. Improved global governance on energy safety, including nuclear and deep-water drilling, is essential.

As our 2012 World Energy Trilemma report highlighted, the challenge for the global energy sector is to find a coherent way of integrating policy and industry solutions into a framework that enables real progress to be made. Worldwide energy demand is rising significantly: it is likely to increase by 36% by 2030 and to double by 2050. The majority (about 93%) of this growth is driven by emerging economies.

In order to adapt to this growth in demand, we must equally focus on energy efficiency. There are sufficient global energy resources in the world to fuel economic growth, but the key is in bringing them to market and finding solutions to make them sustainable.  Hydrocarbon resources could support current rates of consumption for another two centuries, but they are distributed unevenly across the globe and offer limited support for carbon reduction. New renewable energies could be exploited in many countries, but they are intermittent in their production and are still too expensive. Nuclear energy can help meet a number of priorities, from sustainability of supply through to a lower-carbon energy mix, but international governance on the safety of nuclear energy needs to be improved.

energy-wec-1Nevertheless, there is one global issue on which an international accord could be reached within reasonable efforts, and where its sense of urgency commands us to act now. This issue is global governance, beginning with the clear need to re-examine global nuclear safety post-Fukushima, and global safety regimes within deepwater oil exploration and unconventional gas recovery. In the case of shale gas and recently discovered hydrate methane, in particular, significant attention and unchallenged myths have created public mistrust.
There is a real opportunity for an international political body like the G20 to promote a consensual solution to global nuclear safety. This body could demonstrate that true international governance, where emerging economies play their full part, could be successful. Nuclear power is still expanding worldwide, so there is a real urgency for us to act now, and act together. Indeed, global nuclear safety is a major challenge for both countries that exploit nuclear energy and the ones that refuse to adopt it.

That is why, I, as Chairman of the World Energy Council, call for a global wake-up. If we are to secure our future and its required energy supply, we have to make sure all our energy technologies and organisations are safe. To achieve these objectives, I suggest the creation of a ‘G20’ group on energy. This group should consist of an international and independent group of experts, acting as an authoritative international body for all energies, representing OECD and non-OECD countries to contribute quickly to the enhancement of safety around the world.

Finding consensual solutions and creating a global accord on energy governance is easier said than done, however. From 13 to 17 October 2013, global energy leaders will gather in Daegu, South Korea, for the 22nd World Energy Congress. There, we will have a rare opportunity to make meaningful and long-lasting headway in addressing some of our most pressing energy challenges, enabling the discussions that will be held at the G20 to be taken forward in reality.

I believe that the World Energy Council can be a catalyst in the world’s attempt to build dialogue, share vision and reach consensus to achieve a sustainable future.

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