Tag Archives: Electricity

Energy dilemmas

I-Hsien Porter

In a paper in The Geographical Journal, Michael Bradshaw describes two pressures facing energy policy.

First, there is the need to guarantee a reliable and affordable supply of energy. Energy security can be threatened by domestic disputes (e.g. in France, recent strike action caused the country to import large amounts of electricity) and international tensions (which led Russia to restrict gas exports via a pipeline to Belarus, in June 2010).

Second, the current reliance on carbon-based fossil fuels (coal, oil, gas) is unsustainable. The economic and environmental costs of extracting fossil fuels, alongside the threat of climate change, means that it is increasingly difficult to match demand with carbon-based energy sources.

The Statement on Energy Policy, recently announced by the UK government, reflects these concerns. The policy envisages half the new energy capacity built in the UK between now and 2025 will come from renewable sources. Nuclear and wind power are highlighted as key areas for development.

However, as Bradshaw argues in his paper, emerging economies in the global South will cause a shift in global energy demand and production. Geographers can play a key role in informing national policies and investment, by linking changing patterns in global energy use and resource distribution, to national and local impacts.

The Guardian (18th October 2010) ‘Severn barrage ditched as new nuclear plants get green light’

Bradshaw, M. J. (2010) ‘Global energy dilemmas: a geographical perspective’, The Geographical Journal (Early view)

Energy security

I-Hsien Porter

Our dependence on energy is increasingly fragile. In the US, oil companies are drilling deeper and taking more risks in response to the demand for cheap oil. In April, a Transocean/BP oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico exploded and sank, resulting in a massive oil spill. Regardless of how the situation has been managed, it was the demand for oil that meant that the oil rig, with all its associated risks, was there in the first place. Energy supplied by fossil fuel is becoming more risky to obtain.

Meanwhile, on the Isle of Eigg, off the west coast of Scotland, residents have been urged to use household appliances less as a lack of rain has reduced the amount of electricity generated through hydro-power schemes. Energy supplies are becoming more difficult to sustain.

In Belarus recently, piped gas supplies from Russia were reduced in response to a disagreement over payment for gas and the use of transit pipelines. Energy security is therefore not just a case of the geographical distribution of supply and demand, but is also dependant on complex social processes and international relations.

Michael Bradshaw deals with these themes in an article in Geography Compass, published in 2009. Bradshaw illustrates the multidimensional nature of energy security. For example, climate change policy is driving a reduction in reliance on carbon-based fossil fuels. At the same time, China and India’s rapidly developing economies are increasing their demand for energy, reshaping the challenges of energy security as they add their voices to the debate.

Geographers are well placed to understand the interface of the physical and political drivers of changing energy supply and demand. A key challenge remains in translating this into an understanding of energy security and the policies needed to sustain affordable and sufficient energy supplies.

Bradshaw, M. J. (2009) “The Geopolitics of Global Energy Security.” Geography Compass 3 (5): 1920-1937

US Oil Spill coverage (BBC News, 30th June)

No rain puts Eigg on toast watch (BBC News, 29th June)

Russia ‘to restart’ full gas supplies after Belarus row (BBC News, 24th June)

When the lights came on

Bumbuna hydroelectric dam under constructionBy Jenny Lunn

Last week, the lights came on. I live in Sierra Leone, West Africa, where the Bumbuna hydroelectric project has just been commissioned by the country’s President, Ernest Bai Koroma. The project, started in 1975, is providing the country with an almost uninterrupted electricity supply, although it will not operate at full capacity for many years to come.

Sierra Leone’s energy problems are by no means solved by Bumbuna. The capital city’s existing transmission system is woefully inadequate to cope with the unstable surges of power. The network is yet to be expanded to many regional towns and rural areas. The logistics of billing consumers and collecting revenue will challenge the National Power Authority. The resettlement of those whose homes were demolished for the construction of the dam and its infrastructure is yet to be resolved.

Scott Jiusto, in his chapter on Energy Transformations and Geographic Research in the Blackwell Companion to Environmental Geography, writes that “energy underwrites developmental aspirations”. The people of Sierra Leone have patiently aspired for a reliable electricity supply for over 30 years. It is not surprising, then, that there were scenes of jubilation last week when the lights finally came on. Reliable power is the foundation for economic and social development; let us hope that the government of Sierra Leone now embrace the new energy to bring growth and prosperity to the country’s people.

60% worldRead the President’s speech at the Bumbuna commissioning ceremony

60% worldRead Energy Transformations and Geographic Research by Scott Jiusto