Traditionally, energy system vulnerability has been viewed in terms of technical failure, accidents or operator errors, however, it is increasingly recognised that vulnerability is multi-dimensional and influenced by a wide range of interacting factors such as system complexity, resource availability and constraints, diversity of energy supply and political disruptions. Such factors typify conventional fossil fuel sources of energy, in particular though the problem of diminishing accessible, secure and economically viable reserves and the need to reduce CO2 emissions. The former manifests itself in increased fuel cost, the latter in legislative and economic constraints. This vulnerability can have a devastating effect on end users, whether they be business consumers who require continuity of price and supply to stay in business, or domestic consumers who rely on a secure, affordable supply of energy to heat and power their homes. In the paper we conceptualise a resilient energy system defined thus...
"A resilient energy exhibits adaptive capacity to cope with and respond to disruptions by minimising vulnerabilities and exploiting beneficial opportunities through socio-technical co-evolution. It is characterized by the knowledge, skills and learning capacity of stakeholders to use indigenous resources for energy service delivery"Conceptually a resilient energy system brings together two actor groups, broadly those that own and use energy producing technologies and those that develop and deploy those technologies. In the diagram below, energy resources are captured and/or stored, either with embedded or localised technologies. The user interface provides information that enables the user to balance the energy service need to either available or stored resources.
There are some signs of an increase in smaller more localised approaches. The challenge is for policy-makers to act on the signals for change and start to devise policy solutions that can transform the energy system. In Denmark, Netherlands and Germany there is consider- able involvement in wind power, facilitated through incentives, a sympathetic planning system and a flexible banking suppor- tive of small scale projects. Though there is some movement in the UK, we suggest that a more radical policy approach is needed if we are to make a more resilient energy system. Finally we argue that thinking from a resilience perspective allows an approach to a low carbon future where shared solutions, developed through learning, can make a sustainable energy future a reality.
You can access the full paper here, and to reference please use the following citation:
O’Brien, G., Hope, A., (2010) Localism and energy: Negotiating approaches to embedding resilience in energy systems. Energy Policy 38, 7550-7558.