How renewables will change the geopolitical map of the world

How renewables will change the geopolitical map of the world

The rapid growth of renewable energy will have a profound effect on geopolitics worldwide, writes energy expert Walt Patterson, a fellow at Chatham House in London. In this article, he explores the many ways in which “fire-free electricity” will transform political and economic relations.

Geopolitics, as the name suggests, is the interaction between geography and politics. Geography offers resources. Politics determines who benefits. That of course entails recognition of resources. A resource is something we want to use and know how to use. The value and commercial status of a resource changes over time. The value depends on what a potential user wants to do, and the other resource options with which to do it.

What was once a resource may no longer be. Six decades ago asbestos was a resource. Now its hazards far outweigh its usefulness. Many people now see coal in the same way. As the evidence of dramatic and devastating climate change gets ever harder to ignore, oil and natural gas might well be next. Yet even as these traditional resources face increasing challenge, innovative resource options are rapidly emerging. The implications for the world economy and geopolitics are profound and far-reaching.

My institute in London, the Royal Institute of International Affairs, known as Chatham House, last year launched a new website devoted to resources: Resource Trade Earth. As the name indicates, it is an interactive website on which you can track the global trade in resources, year by year and resource by resource, in quantities and value. I highly recommend it, but with a warning: if you are interested in resources the site is frankly addictive, like a video game.

A key use of resources all over the world is to generate electricity. Traditional electricity resources include coal, natural gas, petroleum and uranium. All figure prominently on the new Chatham House website. Competing with these, however, are other resources that cannot be traded internationally, notably wind and sunlight.

Both, of course, are specific to given locations. Unlike commodity fuels, metals and other materials, which can be extracted in one place and transported for use somewhere else, including internationally, wind and sunlight are immaterial. They have to be used where they are. Both wind power and solar power are nevertheless becoming steadily more significant contributors to electricity generation.

Fire-free electricity

What are the mechanisms through which wind and sunlight could reshape geopolitics? Both our local and our global problems, urban air you can´t breathe, and atmospheric overheating of the entire planet, are ultimately caused by our use of fire, and what fire releases into the atmosphere, locally and globally. My most recent book is entitled Electricity Vs Fire: The Fight For Our  Future. It describes the implications, and what we can do about it. If you´re interested the book is now a free download from my website archive Walt Patterson On Energy.

Wind power and solar power do not use fire. They produce what most people call ´renewable energy´. I like to call it fire-free electricity. Wind and sunlight reduce reliance on fire, and thereby reduce requirements for fuel. Fire-free electricity therefore reduces the political and economic power of the fuel suppliers, both state and corporate. I call them the fire-feeders.

More specifically, wind power and solar power are already undercutting coal in some of its major markets, notably the US and Australia. Car manufacturers everywhere are rushing to develop electric vehicles, threating the major market for petroleum. Natural gas, touted by its producers as the cleanest fossil fuel, is nevertheless another feed for fire, another source of carbon dioxide. Improving the world´s vast stock of inadequate buildings, as an obvious corollary of local fire-free electricity generation, could dramatically reduce the market for natural gas. All of these developments bring with them significant geopolitical consequences.

Source: Energy Post

Date: March 2018

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Tags assigned to this article:
climate changeenergy policyfossil fuelsrenewables

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