Global crises often pave the way for rapid technological development.
In World War 1, the pressure to reduce infection on the battlefield — which was, at the time, the greatest cause of death in war — promoted the rapid mass production of the antibiotic penicillin, plummeting the rate of death by infection and contributing to the victory of the Allied forces.
Similarly, when the COVID-19 pandemic struck, the urgent need for a vaccine meant that vaccines to provide immunity against the coronavirus were produced in record time, taking just under a year to develop. This is compared to the typical development lifetime of vaccines, which often exceed a decade before they’re ready for use by the public.
Now, we’re facing a different kind of global crisis — one in which millions of people all the world are struggling to afford to pay their utility bills as energy prices have skyrocketed in a phenomenon described as the ‘global energy crisis’. This, in turn, has had a knock-on effect on countless industries and — as a result — the cost of living, which is becoming unaffordable for many.
What is the cause of the current energy crisis?
The energy crisis has been brought about — and exacerbated — by a number of different market influences.
In large part, the crisis has been attributed to global demand for energy outweighing the available supply — particularly in the wake of COVID-19 and associated lockdowns, which caused many energy companies to cut back on production.
Subsequently, as the world’s economy bounced back, demand increased once more, though the supply failed to catch up. As a result, many countries — including China — exported less oil and gas to other countries in order to fuel their own economy, driving up the price.
However, that’s not all. As Russia invaded Ukraine in February of this year, resulting in a conflict that has disrupted supply and trade of oil and natural gas — of which Russia is one of the largest suppliers — prices skyrocketed even more, especially amidst fears that Russia will further restrict supply.
The energy crisis has highlighted the need for a shift to renewables.
Th energy crisis has called attention to how our dependence on fossil fuels — and our dependence on the exportation of energy from other countries — makes us vulnerable, spotlighting how little control countries have over the soaring prices. This is in addition to the negative effect that these non-renewable energy sources have on the environment.
As such, the pressure being exerted by the energy crisis may be creating the conditions necessary for rapid development in alternative energy sources — in other words, clean, green renewable energy technologies.
By directing investments towards green energy technologies, governments can reduce their country’s reliance on imported energy sources such as oil and gas, reducing their susceptibility to the volatile prices of fossil fuels in the future, as well as safeguard the planet from excessive global warming.
In response to the global energy crisis, the European Commission has developed the REPowerUE plan, detailing initiatives to accelerate the rollout of renewables, including a strategy to double solar power capacity by 2025, double the rate of development of heat pumps — to allow energy to be used more efficiently to heat homes — and implementing a goal to generate 10 million tonnes of domestic renewable hydrogen by 2030.
Despite this, it’s possible the crisis will halt progress towards sustainability.
As commented on by the IEA — the International Energy Agency — the energy crisis “threatens to derail efforts to tackle the world’s critical challenge of reducing global greenhouse emissions”.
This is because governments are torn between whether to invest in green technologies or to build new infrastructure and support fossil fuel production within their own countries, to reduce dependence on energy-rich countries such as Russia as quickly as possible.
As the pressure from the energy crisis is being felt now — and experts predict the effects will last for at least 2 years — governments are looking for quick solutions, meaning many are leaning towards building infrastructure to procure shale oil and natural gas, rather than considering the best path to take for the long term.
Looking to the future, prioritising renewables is essential.
Admittedly, oil and gas can be obtained and used more quickly than renewable energy production sites would take to build — and before enough energy could be generated to tackle the current energy crisis — as countries across the globe look to replace energy provided by Russia as fast as possible.
Despite this, the long-term solutions that governments should be prioritising, in order to reduce long-term reliance on imported energy and further the globes progress towards reducing greenhouse emissions, is green technology and facilitating the generation of renewable energy.
Ultimately, there is no quick fix to the global energy crisis, and if governments choose to direct investments towards fossil fuel procurement, they are choosing to forgo a unique opportunity to make enormous progress towards the net zero emissions target — all while ensuring a reliable energy supply and the stability of energy prices long-term.
By instead investing in green technologies and renewable energy production sites, governments can continue to meet their environmental goals while safeguarding their economic future by reducing dependence on imported oil and gas.