The complicated geopolitics of renewable energy

By Sergey Paltsev, November 1, 2016

A recent UN climate agreement has the potential to shift global energy consumption from a mix dominated by fossil fuels to one driven by low-carbon technologies. It is clear that if this happens, fossil-fuel-producing countries will have to adjust their economies to reflect lower export earnings from oil, coal, and natural gas. The rise of renewable energy may also create new centers of geopolitical power. As renewable resources become widely distributed, supply-side geopolitics are expected to be less influential than in the fossil-fuel era. Instead of focusing on just two major resources, oil and natural gas, low-carbon energy geopolitics may depend on many additional factors, such as access to technology, power lines, rare earth materials, patents, storage, and dispatch, not to mention unpredictable government policies. Despite uncertainty, there is no question that the balance of power in energy geopolitics is shifting from fossil-fuel owners to countries that are developing low-carbon solutions.


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