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FANVoices | The Green Pathway

The Green Pathway: Energy Transition

by Leo Zirwes, Member of the Forum Alpbach Network Committee

A risk and a chance are posed ahead of us, both of them having a common cause: the climate crisis. On one side it is an existential threat of an extent, which we are not even capable of measuring yet. On the other side, it sets before us the chance to build back better, to create a sustainable economy. If we do not address the radix of climate change, we will face a world in which staying within the 1,5° C limit above pre-industrial temperature levels is impossible, with all its catastrophic side effects. One of the driving forces behind climate change and a cause of enormous quantities of greenhouse-gas emissions which our ecosystem is no longer capable of binding, is our current energy system. Thus a restructuring of the way we produce our energy is essential to reach our goal to preserve a stable climate.

The technical requirements to fulfil the energy transition have been fully developed. The problem which is hindering them from being implemented is twofold. In many regions of the world there is only little, if not any will to do so. It seems like political paralysis is very zeitgeisty, as more and more courts conclude that this is the case with national states attempts to face the climate crisis. The spread of misinformation and ill-founded fears is playing into the paralysis. A broad front of inactivists is crying crocodile tears over the purported threat “caused” by clean energy. The lines of argument try to create a dilemma between climate protection and the protection of the environment and in some cases furthermore health. So they say that windmills are shredding a massive number of birds or that they cause cancer or even piles through infrasound.

There is no integral concept on how this transition is to be undertaken. But in order to give economic units planning reliability, it is substantial to set a mandatory framework that enables long term economic activity. Especially to preserve and ensure a level playing field, a mandatory framework is necessary. For this planning reliability is a conditio sine qua non, there is even in fields like the pricing of carbon dioxide emissions a call for higher pricing out of fear, that states try to adjust them upwards in a short period and so torpedo the measures taken until then. Maybe in some cases, Adam Smith’s invisible hand has some green fingers.

There is no silver bullet for achieving the energy transition. But there are pillars upon which such a transition can unwind. Prospectively there will be an extensive need for high voltage lines to convey clean energy from the places where it was generated or stored to locations where it is utilised. This is a result of the often fixed sites where clean energy can be generated based on geographical circumstances. Addressing this issue calls for the buildup of new high voltage lines as well as for better energy management and an intensified use of storage technology. Another hurdle, which is to be overcome, is the discrepancy between the high approval ratings of the energy transition in general versus the approval ratings of its implementation via particular projects. This requires the active involvement of the parties concerned by the individual projects in conjunction with education to deprive the breeding ground for false fears. Moreover, this education should guide to a more energy-conscious lifestyle to prevent the occurrence of rebound effects or to cushion its impacts. Substituting is an intricate task. We know what we technically need for an energy transition, and still, innovation is spurring and creating increasingly productive facilities to generate clean energy. What is required here is a deep understanding of the complexity of the substitution process, meaning that transformative science has to master in this respect the quadrature of technics, infrastructure, socio-economics and politics.


(c) EFA/Andrei Pungovschi