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The rising volatility of oil prices, disputes over fossil fuels, deteriorating environmental conditions, and imminent climate change are signs for international organizations to adapt toward more sustainable energy systems (Scholten & Bosman, 2016). Such signals are oriented toward inventions that promote the use of renewable energy sources, where technology remains the foundation of the future shift to renewables. Currently, renewables contribute only little to global primary energy and electricity supply, although this has improved with investment and installed capacity (National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), 2008). The potential for renewable energy sources is vast and simply waiting to be discovered. Moreover, the current technology in use for renewables only captures a portion of the available wind energy, geothermal energy, solar energy, ocean thermal energy, biomass, hydropower, and wave energy (Scholten & Bosman, 2016). Most literature covering the geopolitics of renewables and particularly from international relations (Amineh & Guang, 2010) focuses on gas and oil security barely touching on the potential geopolitics that determines shifts towards renewable sources of energy. Such considerations intrigue questions that are revolved around the possible implications of politics and the technical features of renewable systems of energy and the consequences of support technologies and renewable systems of energy based on energy-linked patterns of collaboration and conflicts between different countries (Scholten & Bosman, 2016). This paper will offer the insight into the challenges that accompany the energy producers, consumers, and transit nations from the geopolitical standpoints concerning renewable sources of energy and technological particulars.
Understanding Renewable Energy and Geopolitics
The idea surrounding geopolitics that encompasses International Relations and Political Geography has received many interpretations. In the report ‘The geopolitics of renewable energy’ (Criekemans, 2011), geopolitics is the investigation of the interaction existing between state-politics and the immediate territoriality in three perspectives, namely, human-geographical, physical-geographical, and spatial. Energy falls in the physical-geographical category. Criekemans (2011) asserts that there exists the struggle between countries for power, land and resources, which are imperative for each one of these countries to survive. While reviewing on the geopolitical state of the sources of energy and the strategic and economic significance of energy for the power and wealth of the country, international relations scientists concentrate more on energy security questions. Numerous studies (Amineh & Guang (2012), Dannreuther (2010), Friedman (2006), etc.) reveal how the topology of gas and oil reservations determines the political decisions that constitute both producer and consumer’s countries and the status of inter-country relations about energy.
The security on fossil fuels is associated with the ideas of vulnerability and dependence, particularly in consumer or net-importing countries. Dependency means sharing national energy consumption generated locally vis-à-vis imports of energy (Gnansounou, 2008). On the other hand, system’s vulnerability refers to the level to which a system cannot adjust to identify adverse conditions due to the use of fossil fuels. Vulnerability indicates implications of interrupting energy supply (Gnansounou, 2008). According to EU Commission, energy security must be improved to ensure that country’s economy is functioning properly, its physical availability is uninterrupted, and offered at fair prices, and environmental concerns (renewable energy) are considered (European Commission (EC), 2011). Therefore, when a balance is established between the physical availability, price, and environmental concerns regarding energy, the world would take several steps towards sustainable renewable energy.
Geopolitics of Renewable Energy and the International Relations
The geopolitics of energy of the country is determined by its location, demands, or transit of energy, and the role they play in the supply of energy. For instance, the strategic location of Turkey makes it a significant gas and oil transit country (Austvik & Rzayeva, 2017). Kurdish and Azerbaijani oil is passed through the Eastern sections Turkey to Ceyhan through the Mediterranean Sea. Azerbaijani and Russian oils are transmitted across the Turkish Straight of the Dardanelles and Bosporus waterways to the Western markets. The section of geopolitics is the geo-strategy and geo-economics. Geo-economics refers to the analysis and description of how energy resources are distributed between different states. In this case, it focuses on industrial capacities of countries, technological and administrative capabilities and competencies and individual flows of trade and finances (Austvik & Rzayeva, 2017). Geo-strategy refers to a military concept and explains intentions for gaining physical control of specific areas or the ability to bar the others from taking control of those areas regardless existing geo-economic and geopolitical procedures. Therefore, the geopolitics of energy in any state must be comprehended using both location and size of the state. Other resources, their availability who controls them, alternate routes of transit, the balance between regional and international markets, regulations and mechanisms in the market, political resolutions and the general state of global prices must be understood.
Renewable energy and geopolitics are associated with both new and old formulations. States have and continue instituting national approaches and geo-strategies to meet their renewable energy targets and needs, secure their national interests and position, and reach markets to generate revenue (Criekemans, 2011). Securitization of energy policies contributes to the shaping of bilateral, unilateral and multilateral or global energy affairs. Recently, environmental and climate concerns and the need for greener economies have pushed nations into politicizing the energy sector, creating international policies and pressures for the enhancement of energy efficiency, shifting away from fossil sources and adoption of renewables (Austvik & Rzayeva, 2017). The global debate on climate change adds complexity to the energy sector, as many argue against the use of fossil fuel that still accounts for 87% of energy utilized in the world and advocate for renewable sources of energy. Research has shown that fossil fuel is the primary source of carbon monoxide emissions, which is the leading cause of global warming. Therefore, the use of fossil fuels and the excessive emission of carbon monoxide should be curbed while increasing sources of renewable energy. Similarly, while local US shale gas and oil resources were almost to alter the American physical reliance on imported energy, which defined the nature of the geopolitics of gas and oil for the US, Europe remained hugely reliant on imports of the oil and gas (Austvik & Rzayeva, 2017).
Global Shift towards Renewable Energy
The International Community has come up with policies to try and shift global attention from non-renewable sources of energy to renewable sources of energy (Cloke, Mohr, & Browna, 2017). There are three major agendas during climate change conventions, namely, climate change, security of energy, and energy equity to guarantee long-term sustainability of the global energy systems. These three drivers constitute the trilemma, which calls for structural adjustments to the systems of energy such as infrastructure, technology, scientific knowledge, policy, and cultural and social practices that have become progressively inclined towards the achievement of common goals (Cloke, Mohr & Browna, 2017). Moreover, it is important to notice that shifting towards renewable sources of energy faces with many challenges. According to Capellán-Pérez, Castro & Arto, (2017), attempts to transition towards renewable energy intensifies global competition for land. Nonetheless, many analyses indicate that land cannot pose a challenge during transitioning. The scientists further discovered that solar energy regarding biophysical latency and power density potentially lead regarding renewable sources of energy. Many governments are the adopting policy frameworks to spearhead the penetration of renewable sources of energy that will enhance their energy security and mitigate the emissions that limit anthropogenic changes in climate besides other externalities of conventional sources of energy (Johansson, 2013). The greatest potential for renewables are solar and wind, while it is projected that there are no practical limitations when sufficient investments are made to these sources (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), 2011). Whereas fossil fuel energies signify concentrated deposits of energy and the use of enormous power rates during exploitation, technologies applied in harnessing renewable sources of energy have low power consumption rates (Smil, 2015).
The adoption of renewable energy strategies has received extensive support from different countries such as United States, Sweden, Costa Rica, Scotland, France, Germany, China, and Japan with the energy generating firms being encouraged to switch to renewable sources of energy (Apergis & Apergis, 2017). For instance, in 2015, leaders across the world adopted the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) strategy during the United Nations Convention that later gained the approval during the Paris Agreement (D'Amato, 2017). Since then, many countries are in pursuit of carbon-free sources of energy. Moreover, many international organizations have been formed to spearhead the transition to renewable sources of energy (Havard Kennedy School, 2017). These organizations symbolize the geopolitical perspective about renewable sources of energy. They include the European Solar Thermal Electricity Association (ESTELA), SolarPower Europe, IEA Bioenergy, Global Village Energy Partnership, UNEP Sustainable Energy Finance Initiative, etc. In addition, the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), the intergovernmental organization supports different countries in their joint initiatives to transition towards sustainable future energy (International Renewable Energy Agency , 2017). IRENA serves as the platform for international cooperation in the adoption of renewable energy strategies. Many benefits come along with the passage and implementation of the strategies aimed at enhancing the use renewable sources to produce energy. According to Apergis and Apergis (2017), renewable energy is sustainable, it creates jobs and empowers the economy of the country. As different world leaders understand the declining fossil fuel production, they are willing to embrace and adopt the approaches aimed at improving the use of renewable sources.
Renewable Energy Technologies
World leaders have joined hands to support each other in transitioning their countries to renewable energies (Amineh & Guang, 2012). Renewable energy technologies, known as RETs (Havard Kennedy School, 2017), have made remarkable progress in the world’s markets within the past two decades. Due to geopolitical collaboration, prices have also reduced significantly and as a result the progress towards renewable energy sources has been lowered. RETs have shown the potential for being the major contributors to global energy needs two-thirds to what fossil fuel is currently giving (Havard Kennedy School, 2017). In many countries, political debates have ensued, most of which recommend the use of RETs, since they provide energy needs, light, and heat for buildings and streets, processing heat in industries as well as addressing other national and international challenges (Havard Kennedy School, 2017). RETs do not have negative impacts on the environment, as there are no or little emissions of greenhouse gases, solid wastes, or water contaminants. Therefore, as research shows (Havard Kennedy School, 2017), the use of these technologies reduces the risks of global warming. The United Nations pushed for the international adoption of regulatory controls on the level of emissions to the atmosphere. The essential purity of RETs has also decommissioned costs and virtually eliminated long-term liabilities for probable health or environmental damages. The use of RETs offsets importation of foreign oil and offers significant direct economic profits (Scholten & Bosman, 2016).
To sum up, the development of renewable sources of energy leads to the alleviation of poverty, transportation, fuelling of industrial production, the expansion of rural development and the protection of health while encouraging sustainability and quality of the environment. With efforts being put to transition to sustainable energy, fossil fuels continue dominating the global primary energy consumption while coal is the world’s main contributor to this energy. The United Nations declared the years between 2014 and 2024 to be the decade of sustainable energy. The use of renewable sources of energy continues growing. Policies, manufacturing, and finances for renewables continue expanding across developed, developing and emerging economies. However, as sources of renewable energy continue developing, they are facing with many emerging challenges, some of which are highly complex and multifaceted.
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