An Introduction to the Geopolitics of Energy

The “energy renaissance” has had many consequences for energy markets, trade, energy security, geopolitics and the global economy. Geopolitics refers to politics, especially international relations, as they are influenced by geographical factors. In many cases worldwide, countries have based both foreign and domestic policy on fossil fuel based systems, whether that be economically or for power and control. In order to transition to a renewable energy based system, they would need to restructure political systems as well. For years, people have been acting under the so-called “geopolitics of scarcity.” This is deeply embedded in the history of international relations, however, by implementing renewable energy systems we can change this dialogue. Many countries, like the United States, rely entirely on another country for a scarce resource on which our energy security depends: fossil fuels. There are many security implications for this, and if the United States seeks new energy sources and removes military force from areas we rely on for fossil fuels, one must think about the security implications that will ensue in other countries. This is important for big corporations as well, in terms of corporate social responsibility, and how their changing energy systems impact the communities that they have roots in. In many cases, large western corporations would actually be doing the United States a favor by removing themselves from the geopolitical landscape. In addition, by implementing renewable energy systems and mitigating climate change, there will be so many fewer geopolitical implications, including avoided climate or water wars and climate migrations, to name a few. Fighting over energy resources could lead to increased friction and imminent danger. For example, the Kingdom of Coal documentary suggests how people may suffer if foreign relations are malevolent, if energy is not secure, and how it will perpetuate climate change if the infrastructure is not improved. In terms of renewable energy, small changes in the global energy mix will have significant geopolitical consequences. This is critical to keep in mind when implementing renewable energy use into a company. Energy, politics, and power are always linked. Who dominates a resource has the power. This can be utilized to convince stakeholders in your company that this is a worthwhile investment. However, there may be adverse consequences to technological advancements in this field, for example, how the expansion of biofuels may impact food security, or how the widespread increase in renewables may lead to energy cartels due to the limited processing capacities of rare earth elements. Also, it is crucial for corporations to keep a close eye on their material supply chains, both for their products and their energy supply. 

On another note, while super-grids, multinational electric grids, may foster regional peace through energy interdependency on the country wide scale, they may not be the best choice for corporations. While they allow nations to contribute whatever resources they are able or have an excess of, super grids may also be used as a weapon against entities, as discussed in the energy security section, and may therefore post as a security threat. Increased threats are posed for renewable energy technologies connected through supergrids or smart grids. In order to combat this, microgrids should be utilized to reduce the threats imposed by supergrids. 

Energy Security 

In terms of grid stability, one might consider implementing a microgrid rather than buying into a super grid. This will make energy access more stable in terms of cyber security; if the supergrid gets hacked, faces physical security threats from terrorism, or fails completely, your business will still have energy access. These are huge threats to our current political and economic systems today. If you choose to develop or buy into smart grids, consider the cyber security implications of this kind of technology and the threat posed by hackers. Moreover, you have to think about the type of energy system that you are using and how secure the energy that it provides will be. For example, you do not want to install a wind farm where the wind does not blow, or a solar array where ample sun does not shine. In addition, you need to think about the consequences of buying into certain types of energy systems. Take nuclear power, for example, which utilizes uranium as fuel which must be obtained through mining. Mining releases greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere, can lead to groundwater contamination, and often results in biodiversity loss. In addition, nuclear power poses two main safety hazards: nuclear meltdowns, and the fact that there is no safe way to dispose of nuclear waste after the fuel is used in the reactor. 

Furthermore, consider the flexibility of your system at hand. Flexibility of a system implies that one energy generation strategy will be ready to take on weight if one system drops in energy production; this is a strong security strategy. For example, solar power is not available at night, and decreases on cloudy days, while wind power is not available to utilize when the wind is not blowing. In addition, you must plan your energy systems to account for climate change. Certain areas might not get as much sun anymore, and changing weather patterns may render your wind turbines useless. If you only have one sector you plan to obtain your energy from, you have an extremely centralized system, however, if you expand your method of obtaining energy to three different renewable sectors, you have certainly increased your system’s flexibility. By not relying on only one source of energy production, you are minimizing the risks at hand. In addition, you must always have a strategy to obtain base load. Base load is the absolute minimum amount of energy that your company requires at any given hour of the day. Many entities obtain their base loads through use of fossil fuels or biomass sources. However, if you are over exploiting certain biomass sources, then you are increasing the risks of weakening food security for your country. Similarly, relying too heavily on fossil fuels is an issue in itself, as fossil fuels are not renewable, and are often imported from other countries. Referring back to geopolitical implications, fossil fuels are not a secure or environmentally sustainable way to provide your corporation with energy. In addition, consider if you require excess land to develop your renewable systems on, and look into the implications of land grabbing, and how it will affect the surrounding community members. Remember, wider energy mixes create flexibility. Finally, corporations need to take into account how highly they hold their capitalist ideals. Climate change is a security threat to all, including your company and its economic welfare. This is just another of numerous reasons why renewable energy implementation should be taken seriously and acted on. 

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