Impact of Energy Insecurity

Have you heard about how the price of energy is soaring? Have you ever experienced a blackout? Can you imagine a world where you can't afford the energy needed to power your phone, the lights in your home, or the toaster? Energy insecurity is a very real problem for millions of households across the world. But what are the impacts of energy insecurity that people face every day? What are the causes? Are there solutions for a more energy-secure future? Let's take a look!

Impact of Energy Insecurity Impact of Energy Insecurity

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Table of contents

    Energy insecurity definition

    Before we get into the causes and impacts of energy insecurity, we should probably explain the energy insecurity definition:

    Energy insecurity is a lack of access to (affordable and reliable) energy. Where people have access to affordable and reliable energy, there is energy security.

    Where countries have or produce more energy than they consume, we call it an energy surplus, providing energy security. If a country consumes more energy than it produces, then there is an energy deficit, causing energy insecurity.

    A person may suffer energy insecurity if they have access to energy, but this access is unreliable or unstable. People suffer energy insecurity where there is energy available, but they can't afford it. Energy insecurity also occurs when there is no energy available at all.

    Causes of energy insecurity

    There are many causes of energy insecurity across the world. Let's take a look at a few of them.

    Issues of energy supply

    Sometimes there is not enough energy to go around, meaning that the energy supply is too low. When demand is higher than supply, people are more at risk of energy insecurity. What influences the supply of energy?

    Geography

    Some countries are naturally and geographically blessed with large stores or strong abilities to generate energy. These countries are far less vulnerable to the threat of energy insecurity. Some characteristics are:

    • Natural reserves of non-renewable energy sources, like coal, oil and natural gas.
    • The climate may be conducive to generating renewable energy. For example, if a country is sunny, then it can generate lots of solar energy by using solar panels.
    • The physical geography of a country can mean that other forms of energy production are possible, e.g., geothermal energy can be generated in volcanic areas.

    Russia is an example of an energy surplus. The country is rich in fossil fuels, which are enough to supply the country and many other countries! Although the USA generates a lot of energy, it actually uses more than it produces. This produces an energy deficit and leaves many people victims of energy insecurity.

    Using natural resources

    Extracting resources (e.g. coal, oil and natural gas) or investing in infrastructures like solar panels, hydroelectric dams and wind farms to generate energy can be costly. For many parts of the world, this is not an option because of the high cost.

    Energy Insecurity Wind farm StudySmarterFig. 1 - wind farms are expensive to install

    As well as economic reasons, a country may choose not to make use of its energy resources because of government decision-making, natural disasters, or conflict getting in the way. This shows that while resources exist in a country, they may not be accessible to the population.

    Wealth

    Some people suffer energy insecurity because they can't afford the available energy. We have already discussed this on a larger (country) scale, but what about individual people? Across the world, wealth is not distributed evenly, and vast inequalities exist between countries, and within countries. Many developing countries are energy-insecure, whereas many developed countries aren't. Economic barriers to energy are more evident in countries where there is less money to spend on importing energy from elsewhere or building infrastructure to increase energy production.

    However, in the UK, the 'cost of living crisis' shows how the price of necessary everyday items is increasing faster than the money (income) earned by people. One result of this crisis is that people have to spend a greater proportion of their wages on energy. For some, it means that energy is becoming unaffordable, resulting in energy insecurity. Although economic energy insecurity often influences developing countries more, some individuals in developed countries can also be at threat of energy insecurity.

    Demand for energy is high around the world, making it a precious and valuable resource. When something is valuable, the price is high. If energy supply is low and demand is high, energy becomes more valuable. With the current skyrocketing price of energy, more people can't afford to use it, plummeting them into a state of energy insecurity.

    Dependence on other countries

    Energy can be transferred between countries so that energy surpluses can come to the rescue for energy deficits. Although useful, being dependent on other countries for your energy comes with some pretty big risks. What happens if you fall out with the country you are relying on? What if, one day, the country you depend on decides to just shut off your energy supply? Both of these things can and have happened, having widespread impacts on people living in the energy deficit country.

    Russia has cut Ukraine off from their supplies of energy, showing that when countries depend on other countries for energy, a lot can go wrong.

    Poor management

    If energy supplies are managed poorly, energy insecurity can occur. Poor management can take many forms, including using too much energy, selling so much that your own population suffers, or wasting energy.

    Impacts of energy insecurity

    Perhaps you have experienced a blackout or a time when your energy has been cut off temporarily. You may have felt annoyed, and it may have inconvenienced your life. The impacts of energy insecurity go way beyond this feeling.

    Social impacts of energy insecurity

    Without access to reliable and affordable energy, people can suffer many negative social impacts. As energy is necessary for cooking, heating/cooling houses, accessing online education materials (like this explanation!), keeping food cool in fridges, and for other 'basic' tasks, energy insecurity can therefore result in food insecurity, health problems and limited access to education. In fact, energy insecurity contributes to inequality across the world, by hindering the development of some developing countries and by disproportionately affecting people from lower-income backgrounds. These inequalities can fuel the cycle of poverty.

    The cycle of poverty refers to a vicious cycle in which people can't escape being extremely poor. A lack of money can be a barrier to education, internet and healthcare access and other basic amenities. Without these things, people are more likely to remain in poverty.

    Sometimes, energy insecurity can mean that governments are forced to use unfavourable sources of energy, like fossil fuels, instead of renewable energy sources. Burning fossil fuels for energy can be detrimental to the health of the population, by reducing the air quality and increasing certain types of disease (e.g. respiratory and cardiovascular)

    Where energy insecurity is a result of dependence on another country, tension and conflict are likely. Conflict can have several social repercussions, including political instability, poor mental health and even death and destruction if the military gets involved.

    Economic impacts of energy insecurity

    No energy often means a loss of jobs and the prevention of development. Instead of accepting this fate, many countries import energy from other countries at a great price. All of these things significantly reduce the amount of money going into a country's economy. This can cause financial struggles or even complete poverty.

    Energy Insecurity rising energy price protest StudySmarterFig. 2 - a protest against the rising cost of energy in London, UK.

    Some countries take advantage of other countries suffering from energy insecurity. Energy surplus countries earn more money when countries have to rely on their energy supply, contributing significantly to their economies, and allowing them to grow in wealth and power.

    Environmental impacts of energy insecurity

    When a country suffers from energy insecurity, a priority is often to increase the energy supply. As well as the social and economic impacts mentioned previously, this can create many negative environmental impacts. When governments decide to use unfavourable (non-renewable) energy, this pollutes the air and contributes to Climate Change.

    Governments may try to exploit some of their unused energy resources to lessen energy insecurity. This can damage the environment by disrupting ecosystems and over-exploit the land, as well as contributing to high levels of pollution.

    Energy insecurity conflicts

    What is geography without a case study? Energy insecurity conflicts are just one example of the many impacts that result from energy insecurity. We briefly mentioned Russia earlier, and you have probably heard in the news about the war in Ukraine. But how is energy is involved?

    Russia has an energy surplus. It is also a powerful country because many non-Russians rely on Russian energy in their day-to-day lives. In response to the conflict with Ukraine, Russia has cut many countries off from their energy supply. The country has significantly reduced energy exports throughout Europe, with plans to supply even less in the near future. This situation is exacerbating existing tensions between the countries and creating (currently non-military) conflict.

    Nord Stream 1 is a series of pipelines that transport natural gas from Russia to Germany. It supplies many European countries and is an important source of energy. In June 2022, it was running at 40% of its usual capacity, significantly reducing the energy supply to European countries. Europe has also been warned that supply could completely stop by late 2022. This would increase the pressure on other energy sources and could create energy insecurity for millions of people.

    Solutions to energy insecurity

    You'll be happy to know that there are solutions to energy insecurity and ways to reduce the negative impacts that come from it. These solutions come in the form of effective Energy Management, Increasing Energy Supplies and attempting to transition to Sustainable Energy Use.

    Impact of Energy Insecurity - Key takeaways

    • Energy insecurity occurs when there is an energy deficit, where the amount of energy consumed is greater than the amount of energy produced.
    • Energy insecurity is caused by geography, lack of wealth, dependence on other countries and poor management.
    • Impacts of energy insecurity include poverty, conflict, financial difficulty, unemployment and exploitation of the environment.
    • Solutions to energy insecurity involve reducing demand/consumption of energy and/or increasing the supply of energy.

    References

    1. Figure 1, windfarm on a landscape (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Te_Apiti_Wind_Farm_viewed_from_Ashhurst_Domain.jpg) by Geoff McKay, (https://www.flickr.com/photos/129472387@N07/), Licensed by CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/)
    2. Figure 2, protesting against high energy costs in London, (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Cost_of_living_protest_at_Parliament_Square,_London.jpg) by Alisdare Hickson, (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Alisdare), Licensed by CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/)
    Frequently Asked Questions about Impact of Energy Insecurity

    What is energy insecurity? 

    Energy insecurity is a lack of affordable and reliable energy, where the amount of energy a country consumes is greater than the amount that it produces.


    What causes energy insecurity? 

    Energy insecurity can be caused by a lack of available energy, a lack of wealth, and conflicts between countries.

    How can physical and human facts contribute to energy insecurity?  

    Physical factors (e.g. the physical geography and climate) can impact how much energy exists in a certain place; human factors (e.g. the use of energy) can impact how much of an energy supply is used up.


    What are the impacts of energy insecurity? 

    Energy insecurity can have social, economic, and environmental impacts, including job loss, poverty, social segregation, economic decline, and environmental degradation.


    What makes a country energy secure? 

    A country is energy secure when the amount of energy it stores/imports is greater than the amount that it uses.

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    What creates energy insecurity?

    What of the following does not apply to energy insecurity?

    True or false: energy insecurity is more commonly found in developing countries

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