It wasn’t that long ago that most of the energy used on the Earth came from muscles. People and animals did most of the work, with an occasional assist from a water wheel. Ships relied on the wind to get from port to port. Then along came James Watt and his steam engine and everything changed. Coal became the fuel of choice for making steam, then oil supplanted coal and gave humanity the energy it needed to drive long distances, cross the oceans with ease, and fly airplanes coast to coast.
But oil reserves are not distributed equality around the world. Some countries have them, others don’t. Over the past century or so, humanity’s unquenchable thirst for oil has led to wars over who should have access to it — from Japan’s quest for oil to power its nascent economy prior to World War II to the US-led wars in Kuwait and Iraq designed to insure America an adequate supply of liquid gold.
The global economy depends on energy from oil. A nation that needs to import it is at risk of economic disaster, as the so-called western world learned to its horror when OPEC turned off the spigot in the 70s. Today, energy independence is cited as one of the primary reasons why America must drill thousands upon thousands of new oil and gas wells every, even if it means destroying entire communities and obliterating the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve.
At the ninth annual conference of the International Renewable Energy Agency in Abu Dhabi last week, outgoing IRENA director-general Adnan Z Amin spelled out how renewable energy is thriving and what that will mean for the nations of the world.
“Unless you have a response strategy to the changes you see around you, you are going to be in trouble,” he said. He predicts a major disruption of established international economic and political structures will occur as renewables begin to displace fossil fuels. “Those countries that will be unable to do this, those industries that are not able to respond to the disruption we see coming, will end up with major problems.”
The highlight of the conference, according to CleanTechnica contributor Jacek Fior who attended the conference, was a report entitled A New World: The Geopolitics Of The Energy Transformation. It was created by an international panel of energy industry figures from governments, international organizations, and industry, including a 12 person panel of commissioners led by former Iceland president Olafur Ragnar Grimsson.
The work was funded by the governments of Norway, Germany, and the United Arab Emirates, says PV Magazine. “When put together, a fascinating new geopolitical reality … is emerging in front of us,” said Grimsson. The report came to four main conclusions.
- The high penetration of renewables will result in a new geopolitical map, marking a departure from a century dominated by fossil fuels
- The new order will feature “enhanced leadership” from China
- The changeover to renewables will offer many nations increased energy independence
- A democratization of energy supply is under way.
“This report represents the first comprehensive analysis of the geopolitical consequences of the energy transition driven by renewables, and a key milestone in improving our understanding of this issue,” said Grimsson. “The renewables revolution enhances the global leadership of China, reduces the influence of fossil fuel exporters and brings energy independence to countries around the world. A fascinating geopolitical future is in store for countries in Asia, Africa, Europe and the Americas. The transformation of energy brings big power shifts.”
Where does all this leave the United States, which is plunging ahead with a drive to become the largest oil and gas exporting country in the history of the world? You can probably figure that out on your own. Rather than making America great again, the energy policies of the current maladministratation, which insists on looking longingly to the past rather than toward the future, will make America irrelevant. If America’s goal is to win an international game of “Mine’s bigger than yours,” it will likely do so only to find no one cares.
The quest for resources has driven international politics for generations. The renewable energy revolution risks doing the same, only this time the competition won’t be for oil or gas but rather for cobalt and lithium. The indignities visited on the world by OPEC 40 years ago could be repeated by OLEC — a consortium of lithium exporting companies — or OCEC — a coalition of (a very few) cobalt exporters in the years to come.
Along with the democratization of energy thanks to renewables, the report envisions greater cooperation among nations as they find new ways to share the new found bounty of unlimited energy that is all around us, just waiting to be harvested. As reported by Carbon Tracker, Mr. Amin told the conference, “Overall, the global energy transformation presents both opportunities and challenges. The benefits will outweigh the challenges, but only if the right policies and strategies are in place. It is imperative for leaders and policy makers to anticipate these changes and be able to manage and navigate the new geopolitical environment.”
Right. Greed will suddenly stop being the primary motivator of human behavior when abundant renewable energy is the order of the day. Kinda reminds a person of the Age of Aquarius that theoretically descended on us all in the 80s. “When the moon is in the Seventh House and Jupiter aligns with Mars, then peace will guide the planets and love will steer the stars.”
“We’ll see,” said the Zen Master.