What’s the right balance of energy, security and sustainability?
The challenge for policymakers is not only to decarbonize energy systems, it is to do so while simultaneously ensuring the security and affordability of energy.
An energy transition is unfolding around the world. In efforts to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and air pollution, governments are installing increasing amounts of wind and solar. Since 2000, renewable installations in the power sector have risen from 20 GW per year to around 160 GW per year and account for almost two-thirds of new generation capacity.
But the challenge for policymakers is not only to decarbonize energy systems, it is to do so while simultaneously ensuring the security and affordability of energy. Should either goal be seriously compromised, the economic, social and political ramifications may be severe.
The World Energy Trilemma 2019 examines the progress governments have made in the continual struggle to balance the critical policy objectives of security, equity and sustainability. By objectively measuring individual countries’ performance on each since 2000, it provides a unique insight into policymakers’ achievements and failures.
The overall picture is one of progress. Out of 128 countries assessed, fewer than 10 have seen their aggregate score across the three dimensions decline since 2000. Progress is also accelerating. Between 2000 and 2004, only 11 countries managed to improve their aggregate score; from 2015 to 2019, this number rose to 31.
Although progress has been widespread, it has not always been even or consistent. No country has managed to achieve continuous improvement in each dimension. All countries have experienced setbacks in one or more dimensions at some point, illustrating the challenge of balancing three distinct policy objectives that do not always align. Trade-offs are sometimes unavoidable.
The top three performers on security are Sweden, Denmark and Finland. The high energy security of the Nordic countries comes from their diverse energy systems, achieved by early and sustained investments in renewables and reduced reliance on fossil fuels (see chart below). In doing so, the Nordic countries simultaneously have improved the security and sustainability of their energy systems. In addition to being the top performers on security, Sweden, Denmark and Finland all receive the highest grading on sustainability.
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