Understanding the evolution of our energy circumstance is tricky, largely because of the multitude and diversity of forces that can affect change. Energyphile categorizes these influences into six forces of change: innovation and technology, environment, economy and business, social and ethical, policy and regulation, and geopolitics. These primary forces can drive — and deter — every energy transition. Usually they are interrelated. Rarely does one work alone.
Innovation and technology
We can all relate to how GPS technology was a navigational step change over paper maps. Similarly, electric bulbs snuffed out kerosene lanterns and candles over a century ago. Innovation and technology are important catalysts for change in energy, but are not sufficient by themselves.
History has repeatedly shown that when human health and welfare are compromised by environmental degradation, we react to remedy the situation, although it often has to reach a crisis before action is taken. Typically, the forces of innovation and policy follow.
Economy and business
Nothing goes ’round without capital. Investment is an essential force for change and lack of it hinders transition. Competition in the free market provides the incentive to attract capital and advance the force of innovation and technology.
Social and ethical
Human issues are often either overlooked or underestimated, but they’re significant vectors affecting the evolution of societal energy use. They can range from consumerism, financial self-interest and pipeline resistance to vested interests in child slave labor.
Policy and regulation
Government is a strong force. The carrot of subsidies or stick of taxation can alter how we get and use energy. Many policy tools are available, including outright bans. Unfortunately, misplaced policies can lead to unintended consequences. A heavy hand of government often triggers resistance from the force of economy and business.
This is a gentle term for fighting over energy commodities. A fundamental staple for all societies, energy has long been used as a lever for strategic economic and political gain. Sanctions, tariffs and expropriation of assets are common. Extreme geopolitical jockeying leads to military conflict.
Every vignette and story on energyphile.org is categorized by its most dominant force. Of course, usually more than one apply — for example, environment and policy often go hand in hand — so most will relate to at least a couple. See how many others you can spot as you read.