Energy security in renewables-based systems

A new report from the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) examines the global energy system’s transformation and its implications for energy security. It tells policymakers that energy security in renewables-based systems will require multi-dimensional thinking.

May 24, 2024 Patrick Jowett

A new IRENA report  proposes a multi-dimensional approach to energy security to align with the renewables-based transformation of the global energy system.

The “ Geopolitics of the Energy Transformation: Energy Security ” report advises policymakers not to transpose thinking from the fossil fuel era to a renewables-based system. It says this could lead to “significant oversights and ill-considered investments.”

“This is particularly crucial as governments make significant investments in infrastructure for systems that are increasingly electrified, digitalised and decentralised,” says IRENA Director-General Francesco La Camera. “The report places the well-being of people and the planet at the centre of the evolving energy security narrative. Ultimately, it recognises that addressing energy security is as much a political endeavour as it is a technical one.”

IRENA’s multi-dimensional approach to energy security encompasses technologies, value chains, and societies. It examines demand-response, flexibility, ecosystems, and human security as preconditions for robust energy systems.

The agency predicts that technology, rather than fuel, will play a dominant role in renewables-dominated systems. It says this is why supply chain resilience must be enhanced.

“Technology supply chains will be exposed to geopolitical disruptions and uncertainties, their exposure magnified by the complex web of connections,” the report says. “Given the need to decarbonise the global economy and the critical role of energy for industrialisation and development in the global south, resilience is an indispensable part of energy security frameworks.”

Traditional threats to energy systems, such as physical attacks on infrastructure and disruptions due to conflict or strategic manipulation, will remain critical concerns for energy security, but will be joined by climate change impacts and extreme weather effects, says IRENA. These must become an integral part of energy security considerations, including infrastructure, trade, and demand-response measures, the report explains, adding that cybersecurity will also grow in importance in electrified and digitalized systems. 

Yana Popkostova, one of the report’s authors, told pv magazine that decarbonization and digitalization of the energy system will fundamentally alter political alliances and dependency dynamics, fostering a radical reshape of conventional geopolitics of energy.

“The report emphasises the central role of governments in proactively shaping national and regional energy systems to mitigate geopolitical disturbance, and to ensure energy security and equity on the road to net-zero,” she added.

IRENA says governments must carefully assess what constitutes strategic assets in the evolving energy system, address critical data deficiencies, enhance transparency across established and emerging trade routes, and establish robust governance and security frameworks to detect and mitigate threats to energy systems during the transitional phase.

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