Fuel security: an infrastructure issue

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

Climate security and fuel security both depend on upgrading infrastructure, and especially end-use infrastructure, says Walt Patterson in a Chatham House paper released in June 2007. Investment in climate and fuel security should be encouraged – by investing in technologies that use fuels and electricity, rather than in the energy supply chain, he argues.

It is widely acknowledged that in order to reduce climate change, the energy sector must act, states the author. In addition, the fact that Russia cut off the gas supply to Ukraine in 2006 outlined the EU’s vulnerability to potential interruptions of gas imports. Pressure on the global supply of hydrocarbon from customers such as China and India – together with the increased ‘politisation’ of the energy market – has put energy security high on the agenda of OECD and non-OECD countries, concludes the author. 

However, the traditional language of energy policy concentrates on flows of fuels and electricity as commodities in short-term batch transaction, notes the author. For example, the term ‘energy technologies’ refers to technologies that produce electricity, and ‘energy statistics’ aim to measure the consumption and production of energy. 

The author rejects such a conception of energy, noting that fuel or electricity are themselves useless, while it is technologies such as the lamp, motor, and computer that are the commodities delivering the services. 

Thus for him, the energy issue is an infrastructure issue and not a commodity issue. Moreover, focusing policy on the improvement of technologies would deliver a more reliable service while using less fuel and electricity, he claims. Both the issues of energy security and climate security could be addressed through the improvement of technologies that use fuel and electricity. 

Non-controversial policy measures, such as improved insulation of buildings, doors and windows would be enough to cut carbon dioxide emissions in the housing sector considerably, states the author. Other technologies such as lighting, cooling and motive power could also be improved to give better energy-efficiency results. For example, a global switch to efficient lighting systems would trim the world’s electricity bill by nearly a tenth, and cut carbon emission far more than any cuts achieved so far through wind and solar power, the paper says. 

The author therefore recommends a systemic approach that would take into account the fuel or energy required to run infrastructures, as well as end-use energy technologies. Such an approach would reveal the best ways to upgrade systems, increase investment, and develop the policies to foster such investment. 

He concludes that policy-makers have to recognise the importance of infrastructure if a turning-point in the evolution of human energy systems is to be reached. 

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