Biennial International Workshop Advances in Energy Studies 2021
Empowering Communities, beyond Energy Scarcity
Since the year 1998, the series of Advances in Energy Studies Workshops aimed at sharpening scientific focus and building a critical mass and collaborative network among scientists and social communities researching about energy and energy–related wellbeing. The Workshop was hosted by different countries (Italy, Brazil, Spain, Austria, India, Sweden). The 2008 Workshop was held in Graz (Austria). This year the Workshop takes place as a Special Session of the ERSCP2021, European Roundtable on Sustainable Consumption and Production, www.erscp2021.eu, Graz (Austria).
Old and new consumers
After the COP 21 in Paris (2015) promoting international agreements about climate change, societal attention about sustainable use of energy and resources kept increasing. Energy and environmental security are major problems facing our global economy. Increased growth, although recently slowed down by the covid pandemic event, and demand for welfare and well–being by developed and developing countries keep placing higher pressure on energy resources. In particular, a large fraction of “new consumers” in developing countries, mainly concentrated in megacities, strive to access to commodity and energy markets worldwide, thus boosting energy consumption and competition for all kinds of resources.
Fossil fuels are clearly showing their heavy contribution to climate change and planetary instability, being their supply governed by dynamic political, economic and ecological factors, independently of the sometimes questioned estimates about still available storages. However, renewable energies are also not exempt from environmental and management problems that make their use sometimes questionable and not yet available everywhere. Not all energies have the same quality and environmental costs: extraction, processing, use, turnover time, land and water demand. This makes energy planning a challenge, much beyond the achieved or achievable technological progress. We cannot disregard that all energy sources (either renewable or nonrenewable) have pros and cons, in that their use affects the environment and life quality to different but not negligible extents.
Yet, energy is a fundamental resource for societal and economic metabolisms; not only we need energy, but we clearly need to address crucial questions about its use (energy to do what? energy from where?) and appropriate management (top-down vs bottom-up energy policy making).
A new energy scarcity
As well known, a new kind of energy scarcity is occurring, not only due to limited abundance, but increasingly due to environmental constraints and trade-offs, to unequal availability worldwide and market prices. The latter also affects the spread of renewables and energy efficiency efforts and programs. Achieving sustainable economies and shared well-being calls for urgent re-framing of the energy problem towards a balanced mix of different solutions, including technological improvement, use of energy resources consistent with their thermodynamic properties, a selection of environmentally friendly sources and carriers, suitable approaches to monitoring of impacts, efficiency measures with rebound control, life-style equity and reduction of energy poverty, decrease of wasteful habits, recognition of environmental limits in a limited planet, and careful management of the energy-water-food-environment nexus. A deeper understanding of these crucial aspects including ways to address them in our production and consumption patterns may help us develop qualitative growth and sustainable lifestyles, beyond the illusion of unlimited energy availability and technological fix.
It clearly appears that the energy problem cannot only be addressed in thermodynamic or technological terms. As always in the past editions of BIWAES, a deeper understanding of trends, solutions and policies can only be achieved through converging efforts by different disciplinary sectors, so that economic, social, environmental, cultural and psychological expertises converge into an innovative picture of local and larger communities, towards shared wellbeing.
Who is in charge for energy solutions? For sure scientists and technology experts have provided important contributions within Academy and Businesses, orienting energy policy making. However, some top–down solutions have not always shown the ability to fully address the needs of communities, nor have they promoted stakeholders and citizens´ participation towards tailored solutions for the different situations. It may be time to integrate top–down and bottom–up efforts, in order to benefit from community insight and knowledge (be they regional, urban, neighborhood and condominium realities, rural organizations, developing communities worldwide), and see needs and solutions that are visible to local realities and not easily visible to experts and policy makers.
This Workshop aims at gathering all potential players in the energy field, sharing knowledge and practices, regulations and roadmaps, integrating and promoting different ways of looking to energy solutions. If successful, such a pattern may finally help go beyond fossil fuels, overcome energy scarcity and environmental degradation, prevent exclusion of important sources of understanding and knowledge.
A Special Issue of Energies is foreseen for participants. Information will be made available on the ERSCP2021 website very soon.
Sergio Ulgiati and Hans Schnitzer (on behalf of the Organizing Committee)