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Energy - Impacts of energy insecurity

The Impacts of energy insecurity

The International Energy Agency defines energy security as “the uninterrupted availability of energy sources at an affordable price”. This means that energy insecurity is where countries have an interrupted supply of energy or cannot afford to provide energy.  This can cause a number of problems, that are Social, Economic or Environmental (or a combination of the 3!).  These problems include;

Exploration of difficult and environmentally sensitive areas
As stated previously we have started to try to extract energy resources in some incredibly sensitive environments.  The impact of our exploitation of these areas could be very damaging and last for a long time into the future, affecting coming generations.  A lack of energy security has resulted in countries damaging the natural environment by;
1. Clearing large sections of tropical forests to access fossil fuels underneath, to build huge hydroelectric dam projects such as the Belo Monte dam in Brazil or to grow biofuels
2. The visual impacts of open cast mining, and the huge impact of that activity.  This is the case at Shotton Open Cast mine in Northumberland
3. Flooding valleys behind huge dams, as seen at the Three Gorges dam area in China.  This irreversibly alters the ecosystem and ecology of rivers and causes damage to the river environment downstream of the dam.
4. Exploiting resources under the oceans.  The USA has drilled for oil in the Prudhoe Bay area of Alaska, and the pipeline and tankers can pose numerous environmental issues.  You may have studied this in the Living World unit.
5. Causing huge environmental damage and poisoning the environment, as seen at the Athabasca Tar sands

Athabasce Tar Sands

The Athabasca Tar Sands Source

The Economic Impacts of Energy Insecurity
One of the major economic costs from energy insecurity comes when countries need to import lots of fuel to meet their energy needs.  They are vulnerable to changes in price which could cost their countries a lot of money.  This can mean that countries without access to their own reserves of fossil fuels can end up paying a lot more for their fuel and hence energy than others.

Energy is also used in large quantities in our food production – modern large-scale agriculture uses fossil fuels to power machines such as combined harvesters and to produce agro-chemicals.  Fertilisers, pesticides and insecticides all require large quantities of energy in their manufacture. This makes farming vulnerable to changes in the price of energy, and when prices go up so does the price of our food in the supermarkets.  Farming can be used to make energy production more secure, via the growth of biofuels. Brazil uses sugar cane to produce biofuels, which creates 20 billion litres of bioethanol a year (the second largest producer) and makes up 45 per cent of the fuel used in Brazilian vehicles.

Industrial output – manufacturing industries require huge amount of energy in the production of goods.  Industry is even more vulnerable than agriculture to the availability of energy.  Some industrial processes simply cannot take place without energy.  Changes to the cost of energy add to the costs of production and could turn a profitable industry, such as the steel industry in the UK into one that needs to shut down. Transport and industry account for more than 50% of energy use in the UK together.

Social Impacts
Energy insecurity can have huge impacts upon people.  The desire for energy security can lead governments to using fuels even if they are damaging to the health of their citizens.  Air pollution caused by the burning of fossil fuels caused 40,000 excess deaths per year in the UK (2016 reports) and 9million deaths worldwide in 2015 (CNN). 
In addition to this, peoples are also vulnerable to the changes in prices for energy.  An increase in the cost of energy can put people into energy poverty and leave them choosing between paying for energy or other essentials such as food.  In some parts of the world, energy insecurity also leads to power cuts which affect not only the home but also people’s ability to work.

Access to electricity map

Territory size shows the  proportion of people with access to electricity © Copyright / Sasi Group (University of Sheffield) and Mark Newman (University of Michigan).

The Potential for conflict where energy demand exceeds supply.
Conflict can take many forms, from simple disagreements to all-out war.  There may be;
1. Conflict between who consumes the energy – people, businesses, agriculture and transport.  As they compete for an energy source this can result in higher prices.
2. Conflict between countries that have sufficient energy supplies and those that do not
3. Conflict over an energy resource – Argentina continues to claim the Falkland Islands which belong to the UK, as there are oil and gas reserves in the waters around the islands.
4. Conflict over goods produced, the UK steel industry suffered massively due to unfair competition from Chinese steel manufacturers who had very cheap state subsidised energy.

Energy conflicts can occur between two or more neighbouring countries that share an energy source that is transboundary, such as an oil field or gas field. For example, Sudan and South Sudan share an oil and gas field that straddles the border between the 2 countries and this is part of the reason for a war in South Sudan.

Also in Africa there is the potential for conflict along the River Nile River between Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sudan). Water and energy conflict has been avoided here by the signing of a “declaration of Principles” by Sudan, Ethiopia and Egypt to share the use of the river.  Despite this, in Ethiopia the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam is under construction which threatens water and energy supplies downstream in both Sudan and Egypt. Ethiopia says the $4.7bn (£3.1bn) dam will eventually provide 6,000 megawatts of power. Will holding back water in this location to produce energy have massive consequences downstream in Egypt?

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