This paper explores the potential political implications of the geographic and technical characteristics of renewable energy systems. This is done through a thought experiment that imagines a purely renewable based energy system, keeping all else equal. We start by noting that all countries have access to some form of renewable energy, though some are better endowed than others. We find two major implications for renewable energy based markets: a) countries face a make or buy decision, i.e. they have a choice to produce or import energy; b) electricity is the dominant energy carrier, implying a more physically integrated infrastructure with stringent managerial requirements. Two scenarios illustrate the strategic concerns arising from these implications: Continental, following a buy decision and more centralized network, and National, following a make decision and more decentralized network. Three observations stand out compared to the geopolitics of an energy system based on fossil fuels. First, a shift in considerations from getting access to resources to strategic positioning in infrastructure management. Second, a shift in strategic leverage from producers to consumers and those countries being able to render balancing and storage services. Finally, the possibility for most countries to become a 'prosumer country' may greatly reduce any form of geopolitical concern.
Bibliographical noteonline first Accepted 19 October 2015
- Renewable energy systems
- Thought experiment