Evolving concept of energy security must address energy demand, system flexibility, technology access and infrastructure development, says IRENA

The transition away from fossil fuels to renewables requires a new interpretation of the concept of energy security, according to a new report by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) published Wednesday.

Geopolitics of the energy transition: Energy security outlines a multi-dimensional energy security concept for the 21st century. The systemic nature of the ongoing transition and its wide-ranging social and economic impacts warrant holistic thinking that encompasses technology and its value chains, system flexibility, climate change effects, energy demand, and human security among other things.

IRENA Director-General, Francesco La Camera, said: “The energy system is undergoing a profound transformation, and renewables are bound to bring greater resilience through decentralisation and greater reliance on domestic sources. It is vital to proactively shape this resilience with foresighted policies and investments. While lessons from the fossil fuel era can inform some aspects of the transition, a holistic approach that considers the unique attributes of renewables and modernises economic, social, and diplomatic strategies is necessary.”

He added, “The evolving energy system calls for a security strategy that integrates environmental concerns, economic trends, and social ramifications. Technologies, not fuels, are the centerpiece of the new energy system. By revisiting traditional security approaches and identifying emerging factors, this report seeks to equip policy makers with a better understanding of energy security in the era of renewables.”

Under IRENA’s World Energy Transitions Outlook, renewables would comprise three-quarters of the global energy mix by 2050. Electricity would become the main energy carrier, meeting more than 50 percent of consumption by 2050. The renewables-based system is characterised by high electrification and efficiency, complemented by green hydrogen and sustainable biomass.

IRENA also estimates that 11 terawatts of installed renewable power capacity will be needed by 2030, requiring a tripling of renewable power and a doubling of energy efficiency, as affirmed at COP28.

As a result, major geopolitical shifts are set to profoundly influence energy trade dynamics, alter international dependencies, and reshape the geopolitical landscape. Cross-border trade in electricity will rise in prominence, fostering mutual benefits, in contrast to the asymmetric dependencies of the oil and gas sector.

IRENA’s new report indicates that energy security in a renewables-based era will need to evolve in several key areas.

It states that resilient technology supply chains will be vital to support the transition, for both developed and developing countries. Furthermore, security and political considerations will hold the key to the successful deployment of the infrastructure required to support flexible renewables-based energy systems. This infrastructure must he highly resilient to extreme weather events, while cyber threats, physical attacks or, a combination of both, rains prominence in highly electrified and digitilised systems.

Human security will be equally important, according to the report, particularly for energy end-users, including in the areas of water and food insecurity, disease, economic marginalisation, inequality and energy poverty.

In addition, energy demand, particularly in Africa and Asia, has profound geopolitical implications for global energy markets, trade patterns and strategic alliances, the report states. Managing it through energy efficiency policies and investments can help mitigate competition over resources and markets.

Finally, the report calls for climate change effects to enter energy security considerations and indicates that renewables should be leveraged to provide cost-efficient, integrated and reliable solutions for climate adaptation.

The report is part of a series of IRENA publications examining geopolitical dimensions of the energy transition, including the hydrogen and critical materials.

Read the report here: https://www.irena.org/Publications/2024/Apr/Geopolitics-of-the-energy-transition-Energy-security