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Unlocking the future: IRENA redefines energy security for renewables

Evolving concept of energy security must address energy demand, system flexibility, technology access and infrastructure development, says IRENA. (Image source: IRENA)

The transition from fossil fuels to renewables necessitates a fresh understanding of energy security, as outlined in a recent report by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) released on 17 April 

"Geopolitics of the Energy Transition: Energy Security"

This report proposes a comprehensive energy security concept for the 21st century. Recognising the multifaceted nature of the ongoing transition and its broad social and economic impacts, the report advocates for holistic thinking that encompasses technology and its value chains, system flexibility, climate change effects, energy demand, and human security, among other factors.

Francesco La Camera, director-general of IRENA, emphasised, “The energy system is undergoing a profound transformation, and renewables are bound to bring greater resilience through decentralisation and greater reliance on domestic sources. It is vital to proactively shape this resilience with foresighted policies and investments. While lessons from the fossil fuel era can inform some aspects of the transition, a holistic approach that considers the unique attributes of renewables and modernises economic, social, and diplomatic strategies is necessary.”

He added, “The evolving energy system calls for a security strategy that integrates environmental concerns, economic trends, and social ramifications. Technologies, not fuels, are the centerpiece of the new energy system. By revisiting traditional security approaches and identifying emerging factors, this report seeks to equip policy makers with a better understanding of energy security in the era of renewables.”

Under IRENA's World Energy Transitions Outlook, renewables are projected to constitute three-quarters of the global energy mix by 2050, with electricity becoming the primary energy carrier, meeting over 50% of consumption by 2050. This renewables-based system emphasises high electrification and efficiency, complemented by green hydrogen and sustainable biomass.

IRENA estimates that by 2030, 11TW of installed renewable power capacity will be required, necessitating a tripling of renewable power and a doubling of energy efficiency, as reaffirmed at COP28.

This shift towards renewables is expected to trigger significant geopolitical transformations, influencing energy trade dynamics, international dependencies, and the geopolitical landscape. Cross-border electricity trade will gain prominence, fostering mutual benefits unlike the asymmetric dependencies prevalent in the oil and gas sector.

IRENA's report identifies several key areas where energy security in a renewables-based era must evolve. This includes the importance of resilient technology supply chains, the role of security and political considerations in deploying infrastructure to support flexible renewables-based energy systems, and the significance of human security, particularly for energy end-users.

Furthermore, the report underscores the geopolitical implications of energy demand, particularly in Africa and Asia, emphasizing the need for managing it through energy efficiency policies and investments to mitigate competition over resources and markets.

Finally, the report advocates for incorporating climate change effects into energy security considerations and leveraging renewables to provide cost-efficient, integrated, and reliable solutions for climate adaptation.

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