There is a delicate balance between the three main areas of our energy future; security, accessibility and sustainability. This is known as the energy trilemma. How we manage these areas is a tricky task.
Deciding how to manage our energy future is not as easy as picking the cheapest, cleanest and most available energy source. One reason for this is that there is rarely one source that meets all these conditions.
What is a ‘trilemma’ exactly? Well, if you’ve heard of a ‘dilemma’ – a difficult choice between two situations – then a ‘trilemma’ is simply a decision between three choices. Di = 2, Tri = 3.
Energy security refers to the amount of energy available where and when we want it; not just at the flick of a switch, but in the future too.
Security can depend on a number of things, in both the short and long term. Security in the short term relates to:
- how much we rely on an energy source for our energy needs
- do we use our own energy sources or get them from another country
- are power stations able to give us energy when we want and need it
And in the long term:
- whether it’s renewable or non-renewable (if it’s going to run out one day)
In the UK, we might take energy for granted, as it’s always there when we need it. But there are over a billion people across the world who have no access to electricity. There are two main reasons why this might be; cost and location.
- People can’t afford to pay expensive energy bills
- their government can’t afford to invest money to improve the country’s energy needs
- the area where they live has no natural resources to easily collect, store and use, or the technology to collect what they do have
Some of the energy sources we use to power, transport and heat our lives, are having a negative effect on the earth because of the greenhouse gases (GHGs) they release; the result of this is climate change. Sustainability focusses on inventing new technology and changing our behaviour in order to:
- be more aware of how much energy we use (and waste) in our daily lives
- collect the natural energy sources around us without damaging the environment
- investigate how best to collect and store renewable and nuclear energy so they become a bigger part of our energy mix
The graphs above show the energy trilemma scores for the UK, Switzerland and Jamaica. Switzerland is currently ranked 2nd in the world for its energy security, affordability and sustainability behind Denmark, while Jamaica has one of the lowest scores in the world. The UK is currently 11th in the world.
The reason there needs to be the right balance between these areas is that changing one or two can affect the rest, usually negatively.
For example, if we focus on using the most accessible energy, this brings its own challenges. Some of the cheaper energy sources we currently have also release the most amounts of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. These are finite fossil fuels, which all emit carbon dioxide (although natural gas emits less than oil and coal) and may run out in the next 100 years.
How we use energy, technological developments and population growth in the future will affect how far these fuels will last.
So these are the areas that need to be considered when governments are making energy decisions for the country, and we as energy users need to know in order to make smarter energy decisions ourselves.
Think YOU could do a good job of balancing these areas? Then why not try the My DECC 2050 game and test your skills as a future energy decision maker!
Find the Energy Trilemma for any country here