OPINION: Switch to Renewables Won’t End the Geopolitics of Energy – by Meghan L. O’Sullivan (Bloomberg News – August 21, 2017)


Countries that dominate the export of rare-earth minerals will be the petrostates of tomorrow.

In another sign that the age of fossil fuels is waning, the California State Senate has passed a bill to commit the state to use 100 percent renewable energy for power by 2045. Other states and cities — including Massachusetts, Chicago and Atlanta — intend to make similar switches. Proponents highlight a bevy of ways in which the Age of Renewables will improve our lives: lower carbon emissions, cheaper electricity rates, new abilities to bring power to impoverished nations … and independence from the economic and political entanglements of volatile global oil and gas markets.

Yes, there are many reasons to be enthusiastic about a shift toward renewables. Unfortunately, an escape from energy geopolitics is not likely to be among them.

Americans and Europeans in particular are familiar with the geopolitical downsides of a heavy reliance on fossil fuels. Even though energy embargoes are extremely rare, and hardly ever in the interest of the producers, the specter of the 1973 Arab oil remains. For many in Eastern Europe, the 2006 and 2009 gas cut-offs to Ukraine by Russia are an equally disturbing memory. Simply the threat of such actions carries political weight.

For other nations, particularly in Asia, reliance on energy supplies coming from afar, through numerous transit chokepoints such as the Strait of Malacca between Indonesia and Malaysia, is a permanent worry. And, of course, there are the volatile politics of the Middle East and other energy-producing countries such as Nigeria and Venezuela.

Why won’t an embrace of solar, wind and the like relieve us of all such geopolitical concerns? First, a shift to renewables in the power grid, as with the California plan, will only go so far until our transportation sector is radically changed by electric cars becoming more of the norm. As long as most of the energy used in transportation is petroleum-based, more renewables will have little impact on the geopolitics of oil (or its consumption).

For the rest of this article: https://www.bloomberg.com/view/articles/2017-08-21/switch-to-renewables-won-t-end-the-geopolitics-of-energy