Energy security: Wikis

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Access to cheap energy has become essential to the functioning of modern economies. However, the uneven distribution of energy supplies among countries has led to significant vulnerabilities. Threats to energy security include the political instability of several energy producing countries, the manipulation of energy supplies, the competition over energy sources, attacks on supply infrastructure, as well as accidents and natural disasters.[1] The limited supplies, uneven distribution, and rising costs of fossil fuels, such as oil and gas, create a need to change to more sustainable energy sources in the foreseeable future.

Contents

Security threats

One of the leading threats to energy security is the significant increase in energy prices, either on the world markets – as has occurred in a number of energy crises over the years – or by the imposition of price increases by an oligopoly or monopoly supplier, cartel or country. In some cases the threat might come from a single energy superpower – those states able to significantly influence world markets by their action alone. Rather than just manipulating prices, such suppliers might go beyond this by suspending or terminating supplies. This has been done to apply pressure during economic negotiations - such as during the Russia-Belarus energy dispute - or to apply political pressure, for example by OPEC in response to Western support for Israel in the Yom Kippur War. Suspension of supplies may also come about as a result of worldwide international sanctions against a country.

Energy plays an important role in the national security of any given country as a fuel to power the economic engine.[2] Hence, threats to energy security can also result from physical damage to the energy infrastructure either of the supplier, or of the importer as a result of natural events, misfortune, terrorism, or warfare. The political and economic instability caused by war or other factors such as strike action can also prevent the proper functioning of the energy industry in a supplier country.

In recent years, new threats to energy security have emerged in the form of the increased world competition for energy resources due to the increased pace of industrialization in countries such as India and China. Although still a minority concern, the possibility of price rises resulting from the peaking of world oil production is also starting to attract the attention of at least the French government.[3]

Increased competition over energy resources may also lead to the formation of security compacts to enable an equitable distribution of oil and gas between major powers. However, this may happen at the expense of less developed economies. The Group of Five, precursors to the G8, first met in 1975 to coordinate economic and energy policies in the wake of the 1973 Arab oil embargo, a rise in inflation and a global economic slowdown.[4]

NATO leaders meeting in Bucharest in April 2008 may discuss the possibility of using the military alliance "as an instrument of energy security." One of the possibilities include placing troops in the Caucasus region to police oil and gas pipelines. [5]

Long term security

Long term measures to increase energy security center on reducing dependence on any one source of imported energy, increasing the number of suppliers, exploiting native fossil fuel or renewable energy resources, and reducing overall demand through energy conservation measures. It can also involve entering into international agreements to underpin international energy trading relationships, such as the Energy Charter Treaty in Europe.

The impact of the 1973 oil crisis and the emergence of the OPEC cartel was a particular milestone that prompted some countries to increase their energy security. Japan, almost totally dependent on imported oil, steadily introduced the use of natural gas, nuclear power, high-speed mass transit systems, and implemented energy conservation measures,[6] It has become one of the world leaders in the use of renewable energy.[7] The United Kingdom began exploiting North Sea oil and gas reserves, and became a net exporter of energy into the 2000s.

In other countries energy security has historically been a lower priority. The United States, for example, has continued to increase its dependency on imported oil[6] although, following the oil price increases since 2003, the development of biofuels has been suggested as a means of addressing this.[8]

Increasing energy security is also one of the reasons behind plans for an oil phase-out in Sweden, together with a block on the development of natural gas imports. Greater investment in native renewable energy technologies and energy conservation is envisaged instead. India is carrying out a major hunt for domestic oil to decrease its dependency on OPEC, while Iceland is well advanced in its plans to become energy-independent by 2050 through deploying 100% renewable energy.

Short term security

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Petroleum

Many countries hold strategic petroleum reserves as a buffer against the economic and political impacts of an energy crisis. All 28 members of the International Energy Agency hold a minimum of 90 days of their oil imports, for example.[9][10]

The value of such reserves was demonstrated by the relative lack of disruption caused by the 2007 Russia-Belarus energy dispute, when Russia indirectly cut exports to several countries in the European Union.

Natural gas

Compared to petroleum, reliance on imported natural gas creates significant short term vulnerabilities. Many European countries saw an immediate drop in supply when Russian gas supplies were halted during the Russia-Ukraine gas dispute in 2006.

Nuclear power

Sources of uranium delivered to EU utilities in 2007, from the 2007 Annual report of the Euratom Supply Agency

Uranium for nuclear power is mined and enriched in diverse and "stable" countries. These include Canada (23% of the world's total in 2007), Australia (21%), Kazakhstan (16%) and more than 10 other countries. Uranium is mined and fuel is manufactured significantly in advance of need. Nuclear fuel is considered by some to be a relatively-reliable power source, though a debate over the timing of peak uranium does exist.

Renewable energy

The deployment of renewable technologies usually increases the diversity of electricity sources and, through local generation, contributes to the flexibility of the system and its resistance to central shocks. For those countries where growing dependence on imported gas is a significant energy security issue, renewable technologies can provide alternative sources of electric power as well as displacing electricity demand through direct heat production. Renewable biofuels for transport represent a key source of diversification from petroleum products.[11]

See also

By area
Economic
Strategic

External links

References


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