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Energy transition is a significant structural change in an energy system.[1] Historically, these changes have been driven by the demand for and availability of different fuels.[2] The current transition to renewable energy, and perhaps other types of sustainable energy, differs as it is largely driven by a recognition that global carbon emissions must be brought to zero, and since fossil fuels are the largest single source of carbon emissions, we must change energy systems worldwide to replace fossil fuels.

An example of transition toward sustainable energy is the shift by Germany (Energiewende) and Switzerland,[3] to decentralized renewable energy, and energy efficiency. Although so far these shifts have been replacing nuclear energy, their declared goal was the coal phase-out, reducing non-renewable energy sources[4] and the creation of an energy system based on 60% renewable energy by 2050.[5] As of 2018, the 2030 coalition goals are to achieve 65% renewables in electricity production until 2030 in Germany.[6]

Defining the term "energy transition"

An "energy transition" designates a significant change for an energy system that could be related to one or a combination of system structure, scale, economics, and energy policy. An 'energy transition' is usefully defined as a change in the state of an energy system as opposed to a change in an individual energy technology or fuel source.[7] A prime example is the change from a pre-industrial system relying on traditional biomass and other renewable power sources (wind, water, and muscle power) to an industrial system characterized by pervasive mechanization (steam power) and the use of coal. Market shares reaching pre-specified thresholds are typically used to characterize the speed of transition (e.g. coal versus traditional biomass) and typical market share thresholds in the literature are 1%, 10% for the initial shares and 50%, 90% and 99% for outcome shares following a transition.[8]

The term 'energy transition' could also encompasses a reorientation of policy and this is often the case in public debate about energy policy. For example, this could imply a rebalance of demand to supply and a shift from centralized to distributed generation (for example, producing heat and power in very small cogeneration units), which should replace overproduction and avoidable energy consumption with energy-saving measures and increased efficiency.[9] In a broader sense the energy transition could also entail a democratization of energy[10] or a move towards increased sustainability.
History

Historic energy transitions are most broadly described by Vaclav Smil.[2] Contemporary energy transitions differ in terms of motivation and objectives, drivers and governance. The layout of the world's energy systems has changed significantly over time. Until the 1950s, the economic mechanism behind energy systems was local rather than global.[11] As development progressed, different national systems became more and more integrated becoming the large, international systems seen today. Historical transition rates of energy systems have been extensively studied.[12] While historical energy transitions were generally protracted affairs, unfolding over many decades, this does not necessarily hold true for the present energy transition, which is unfolding under very different policy and technological conditions.[13]
Future scenario for electricity generation in Germany, an example of an ongoing renewable energy transition

For current energy systems, many lessons can be learned from history.[14][15] The need for large amounts of firewood in early industrial processes in combination with prohibitive costs for overland transportation led to a scarcity of accessible (e.g. affordable) wood and it has been found that eighteenth century glass-works “operated like a forest clearing enterprise.[16] When Britain had to resort to coal after largely having run out of wood, the resulting fuel crisis triggered a chain of events that two centuries later culminated in the Industrial Revolution.[17][18] Similarly, increased use of peat and coal was vital elements paving the way for the Dutch Golden Age roughly spanning the entire 17th century.[19] Another example where resource depletion triggered technological innovation and a shift to new energy sources in 19th Century whaling and how whale oil eventually became replaced by kerosene and other petroleum-derived products.[20]
See also

Fossil-fuel phase-out
Modal shift

References

"World Energy Council. 2014. Global Energy Transitions".
Smil, Vaclav. 2010. Energy Transitions. History, Requirements, Prospects. Praeger
Notter, Dominic A. (2015-01-01). "Small country, big challenge: Switzerland's upcoming transition to sustainable energy". Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. 71 (4): 51–63. Bibcode:2015BuAtS..71d..51N. doi:10.1177/0096340215590792. ISSN 0096-3402.
Federal Ministry for the Environment (29 March 2012). Langfristszenarien und Strategien für den Ausbau der erneuerbaren Energien in Deutschland bei Berücksichtigung der Entwicklung in Europa und global [Long-term Scenarios and Strategies for the Development of Renewable Energy in Germany Considering Development in Europe and Globally] (PDF). Berlin, Germany: Federal Ministry for the Environment (BMU). Archived from the original (PDF) on 27 October 2012.
https://www.bmwi.de/BMWi/Redaktion/PDF/V/vierter-monitoring-bericht-energie-der-zukunft-englische-kurzfassung,property=pdf,bereich=bmwi2012,sprache=de,rwb=true.pdf Archived 20 September 2016 at the Wayback Machine pg6
"Das steht im Abschlusstext von Union und SPD". Sueddeutsche.de. 2018-09-04.
Grübler, A. (1991). "Diffusion: Long-term patterns and discontinuities". Technological Forecasting and Social Change. 39 (1–2): 159–180. doi:10.1016/0040-1625(91)90034-D.
Grübler, A; Wilson, C.; Nemet, G. (2016). "Apples, oranges, and consistent comparisons of the temporal dynamics of energy transitions" (PDF). Energy Research & Social Science. 22 (12): 18–25. doi:10.1016/j.erss.2016.08.015.
Louis Boisgibault, Fahad Al Kabbani (2020): Energy Transition in Metropolises, Rural Areas and Deserts. Wiley - ISTE. (Energy series) ISBN 9781786304995.
Henrik Paulitz: Dezentrale Energiegewinnung - Eine Revolutionierung der gesellschaftlichen Verhältnisse. IPPNW. (Decentralized Energy Production - Revolutionizing Social Relations) Accessed 20 January 2012.
Häfelse, W; Sassin, W (1977). "The global energy system". Annual Review of Energy. 2: 1–30. doi:10.1146/annurev.eg.02.110177.000245.
Höök, Mikael; Li, Junchen; Johansson, Kersti; Snowden, Simon (2011). "Growth Rates of Global Energy Systems and Future Outlooks". Natural Resources Research. 21 (1): 23–41. doi:10.1007/s11053-011-9162-0.
Sovacool, Benjamin K. (2016-03-01). "How long will it take? Conceptualizing the temporal dynamics of energy transitions". Energy Research & Social Science. 13: 202–215. doi:10.1016/j.erss.2015.12.020. ISSN 2214-6296.
Podobnik, B. (1999). "Toward a sustainable energy regime: a long-wave interpretation of global energy shifts". Technological Forecasting and Social Change. 62 (3): 155–172. doi:10.1016/S0040-1625(99)00042-6.
Rühl, C.; Appleby, P.; Fennema, F.; Naumov, A.; Schaffer, M. (2012). "Economic development and the demand for energy: a historical perspective on the next 20 years". Energy Policy. 50: 109–116. doi:10.1016/j.enpol.2012.07.039.
Debeir, J.C.; Deléage, J.P.; Hémery, D. (1991). In the Servitude of Power: Energy and Civilisation Through the Ages. London: Zed Books. ISBN 9780862329426.
Nef, J.U (1977). "Early energy crisis and its consequences" . Scientific American. 237 (5): 140–151. Bibcode:1977SciAm.237e.140N. doi:10.1038/scientificamerican1177-140.
Fouquet, R.; Pearson, P.J.G. (1998). "A thousand years of energy use in the United Kingdom". The Energy Journal. 19 (4): 1–41. doi:10.5547/issn0195-6574-ej-vol19-no4-1. JSTOR 41322802.
Unger, R.W. (1984). "Energy sources for the dutch golden age: peat, wind, and coal". Research in Economic History. 9: 221–256.

Bardi, U. (2007). "Energy prices and resource depletion: lessons from the case of whaling in the nineteenth century" (PDF). Energy Sources, Part B: Economics, Planning, and Policy. 2 (3): 297–304. doi:10.1080/15567240600629435.

Further reading

Clean Tech Nation: How the U.S. Can Lead in the New Global Economy (2012) by Ron Pernick and Clint Wilder
Deploying Renewables 2011 (2011) by the International Energy Agency
Armstrong, Robert C., Catherine Wolfram, Robert Gross, Nathan S. Lewis, and M.V. Ramana et al. The Frontiers of Energy, Nature Energy, Vol 1, 11 January 2016.
Reinventing Fire: Bold Business Solutions for the New Energy Era (2011) by Amory Lovins
Renewable Energy Sources and Climate Change Mitigation (2011) by the IPCC
Solar Energy Perspectives (2011) by the International Energy Agency

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