Political Reasons for Renewable Energy

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Besides the preceding difference, another important disparity exists between renewable and sustainable. This has to do with the reasons for wishing technological change. Why does society want to implement renewable energy solutions? And why does society aim at implementing sustainable energy solutions? The reasons for introducing sustainable solutions are mainly if not solely related to an environmental motive. However, several reasons can be found for implementing renewable energy.

In the article "Choice Awareness" (Lund 2000) and in Chapter 23 of the book Tools for Sustainable Development (Lund 2007b), I described the recent history of Danish energy planning and policy since the first oil crisis in 1973. At least three main reasons can be defined for replacing fossil fuels by technologies related to renewable energy systems, including energy conservation and efficiency measures:

Energy security, with an emphasis on oil dependence (and oil depletion). This reason played the all-important role in Danish society in the 1970s and has, in the beginning of the twenty-first century, experienced a revival caused by increasing oil prices in combination with the relations between the Western world and the governments in power of the remaining oil reserves.

• Economics, with an emphasis on job creation, industrial innovation, and the balance of payment. This reason took over and played a major role in Denmark in the 1980s. The main problem changed from being based on the issue of whether we could get the oil to whether we could afford it. This reason became the driving political force behind the industrial development of, among others, solar thermal and wind power in Denmark in the 1980s and 1990s.

• Environment and development, with an emphasis on climate change. This third reason became a key issue in the 1990s after the introduction of the Brundtland report (United Nations 1987) and has since been of increasing social importance along with the rising discussions on global warming.

All three of these reasons have formed part of the political discussions and have been identified as political goals in Danish Energy Policy during the whole period. However, the main focus has changed in such way that each reason has been considered the most important one from one decade to another.

The concerns related to energy security are based on the underlying fact that fossil fuels constitute a limited resource. The United Nations' discussions on environment and development are based on the fact that energy consumptions are indeed not equally distributed between what is considered the rich and the poor countries of the world, respectively. This is described and discussed in relation to the rising global energy consumption in the paper "The Kyoto Mechanisms and Technological Change" (Lund 2006a). In the paper, it is argued that the introduction of the so-called Kyoto mechanisms actually had the opposite effect of what the UN intended. The Kyoto mechanisms allow rich countries to implement climate change projects in other countries instead of decreasing their own emissions. Thereby, they increase the differences in energy consumption between rich and poor countries rather than decreasing them. Moreover, the mechanisms may slow down the needed technological development.

With regard to the discussion of the difference between renewable and sustainable energy, a main point is that if society accepts nuclear power and fossil fuels in combination with carbon capture as parts of the solution, society may be able to achieve parts of the environmental goals. However, society will not be able to solve the fundamental problems of scarce and limited resources of fossil fuels and uranium. Seen from the point of view of a Western country such as Denmark, society will not be able to meet the goals of energy security, and, with regard to economics, Denmark will still have to import fossil fuels and/or uranium.

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