People have taken on board the idea of using alternative sources of energy. They want to participate in, and benefit from, the production and appropriate use of “clean” energy. They want a better environment. But the move to alternative energy is a complex issue and the various stakeholders have different views as to how such energy should be supplied. Energy involves power.
The European Union wants to extensively manage the move to an Energy Union, with the primary focus on harmonisation. The large European electricity companies deliver what they have always (profitably) delivered – centralised power supply systems – despite the fact that the drawbacks of such systems are obvious.
But the energy transition is nevertheless under way, and the trend towards self-sufficiency is discernible in those regions where people seek decentralised power supply systems because they have no choice – in Africa and Asia, where communities are developing their own local or regional systems; and around the world, in isolated areas such as islands, mines, large construction sites and remote settlements.
Emergency services and humanitarian aid organisations (under pressure to rapidly supply refugee camps, among other things) are reportedly beginning to consider the use of alternative energy sources as a way to boost capability and flexibility. The sector in which fossil-fired power generation continues to have priority is the armed forces. Following the severe casualties suffered in Afghanistan, where more than 300 soldiers lost their lives transporting fuel, the armed forces are however now beginning to rethink their position. Both NATO and the EU Commission, in conjunction with the Council, have taken remedial action and initiated a shift to alternative energies. But a move to implement these initiatives in the armed forces at national level is only now getting under way.
Clearly there is a move toward decentralised power supply and the use of stationary and mobile microgrids in all areas. Modern energy management systems building on large-scale storage capacity and the
use of solar and wind energy as well as biomass (in stationary systems) point the way forward.
All over Europe, small and medium enterprises are making new technologies available, but they will hardly be able to survive without support for their innovations. Industry is pursuing innovation in order to boost energy efficiency and help achieve the European environmental protection targets and it therefore deserves to receive special support.
Contracting authorities should:
- develop concepts or issue calls for tender that take account of the innovation capabilities of SMEs in the formulation of project design criteria and specifications,
- amend procurement guidelines to place more emphasis on targeted environmental protection goals and on Total Cost of Ownership,
- focus to a greater extent on the needs of the end user and on rapid implementation when defining project scale and content,
- design financing models and contract clauses (e.g. liability and guarantees) to take account of the financial capability of industrial SME suppliers.
Will it be possible to turn over a new leaf and enable everyone to benefit from the energy transition? Most of the necessary technologies already exist. What is lacking is political and social methods for putting them into practice. Fortunately, faith is not the only way to move mountains.
Hartmut Bühl, Editor-in-chief