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Energy security at hand

2013-06-05

Maria Julia Trombetta, coeditor of a new international handbook, explains how energy security matters

International Handbook of International Security (artwork: Andy Driver, courtesy of Edward Elgar Publishing) International Handbook of International Security (artwork: Andy Driver, courtesy of Edward Elgar Publishing)

The European Union is taking over the role of the member states. It enacted a regulation on the security of gas supply in 2010. This is one of the many changes pertaining to energy security. This topic has been thoroughly studied in the International Handbook of Energy Security, coedited by Hugh Dyer, an associate professor at the University of Leeds, and Maria Julia Trombetta, a researcher at Delft University of Technology. In an exclusive interview, Ms Trombetta explains that most of the experts have analyzed energy security according to the market logic of offer and demand of energy, while they considered environment as an externality. She points at the importance of considering the human dimensions of energy security.

What is this book about?

This book provides an overview of the debates on energy security, by bridging security and energy experts together. It tries to overcome the divide between the geopolitical approach and the economical one. It is structured around the argument of deepening and transforming what we understood as “energy security.” In the first section, Mr Dyer and I provide an overview on the findings of energy security. We deal with security of supply, security of demand, environmental security and energy as a human security issue.

We see that the debate about energy security has been characterized in the past by the focus on energy supply. However, it has been recently combined with another aspect, the security of demand, so it includes the perspective of producer countries on energy provision that allow for investments and stability. Besides, we observe that most of the analysis has been based on the market logic of supply and demand of energy.

And the environmental dimension...

The book includes a new aspect that has emerged recently: energy systems must be sustainable. That brings about an interest for the environmental dimension of energy security that, in this case, is remarkably often associated with the idea that we are facing global warming; but this is only one aspects of the impact that energy production has on the environment. So, even renewable energy can have quite a serious impact! Wind turbines, for example, pose a threat for birds. The same can be said of solar if you look at the whole production cycle, you can see pollution by chemical elements and other materials used in them. Finally, there is this tension between energy security and environmental security.

How is the book structured?

A section on energy security provides an analysis of the main issues that we are facing. There is, for example, a chapter on energy security and liberal democracy. Very often states try to import energy from other states that are not stable or democratic, and that can represent a problem. Another chapter is about the possibility of conflict related with the production of fossil fuels. Others deal with the return of geopolitics and the emergence of new threats to energy infrastructures.

The book continues with a section dedicated to the security of energy supply. Two chapters contribute to the analysis of strategies to ensure supply by comparing the developed with the developing countries. A chapter does an analysis of the instruments by focusing, for example, on strategic energy reserves of various kinds, and how developing countries such as China saw their international role growing.

A section on security of energy demand presents the perspective on producing countries. Chapters take into consideration the perspectives of the member of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, as well as the perspective of Russia. There are two chapters on this topic, one about the problem of governance, and the other one dealing specifically on the Energy Charter Treaty.

A section on energy, the environment and security deals with the tensions between energy security and the environmental security. The chapters discuss themes such as the governance dimensions, the environmental impact of energy production and the vulnerabilities of the energy infrastructure to environmental changes.

What about the new perspective on human security?

A section on energy and human security is challenging the other sections, which were mostly based on market logic in which we have security of demand and security of supply, and the environmental impact as an externality. This section brings about the human dimension, that is, for example, to provide access to energy service to people. Chapters deal with energy poverty, with inequalities, with the ethical dimensions of energy security, including the tensions between the production of biofuels and the production of food. A chapter compares centralized with decentralized energy systems and the different kind of vulnerabilities and impacts that they are implying. Another introduces the concept of “deep energy security.”

What will researcher on gas find compelling in the book?

I think that, by reading this book, they will realize the implications of taking energy security seriously. Ensuring energy security is not just about security of supply. So, they will have to consider the perspectives of gas producer countries as well, because there are geopolitical tensions about the provision of gas. Moreover, they will learn about the environmental dimensions of energy security. Too often gas is considered as a green solution; but it cannot always be the case. Moreover, they will have interesting insights about providing access to energy services for a large number of users.

Hugh Dyer and Maria Julia Trombetta, eds. International Handbook of Energy Security. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar, 2013.

Interview by Jean-François Auger