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Ascertaining the arising energy transition in global North and global South

Authors:
Ascertaining the arising Energy Transition
in the Global North and the Global South
Ortzi Akizu1*, Gorka Bueno2, Leire Urkidi3,4,5, Rosa Lago2,3, Iñaki Barcena4,5,6, Martin Mantxo7, Izaro
Basurko8, Jose Manuel Lopez-Guede9
1 University of the Basque Country, DEPT of Graphic Expression and Engineering Projects, Nieves Cano 12, 01006 Vitoria-Gasteiz, Spain
2 University of the Basque Country, DEPT of Electronics Technology, Urkixo Zumarkalea, s/n, 48013 Bilbao, Spain
3 University of the Basque Country, DEPT of Political Science and Administration, Barrio Sarriena, s/n, 48940 Leioa, Spain
4Ekopol Research Group on Ecological Economics & Political Ecology, Agirre Lehendakariaren Etorb., 83, 48014 Deusto, Bilbao, Spain
5 University of the Basque Country, Parte Hartuz Research Group, Barrio Sarriena, s/n, 48940 Leioa, Spain
6 University of the Basque Country, Department of Applied Economics I, Barrio Sarriena, s/n, 48940 Leioa, Spain
7Ecologists in Action Basque Country Ecological Debt Group, Pelota kalea 5, 48005 Bilbao, Spain
8Engineering Without Boundaries, Urkixo Zumarkalea, s/n, 48013 Bilbao, Spain
9University of the Basque Country, DEPT of Engineering Systems and Automatics, Nieves Cano 12, 01006 Vitoria-Gasteiz, Spain
Abstract
A new energy transition is just around the corner but this energy transition would be different. Instead of increasing the average
energy consumption, there would be a new goal: to reduce the impact of our energy system. Our current energy system is socially
unfair, environmentally devastating and its values are rooted in old productivism without taking into account the concept of care. But
this new energy transition is not going to be the same in different regions or countries, since one of the big deals is to achieve energy
democracy and equity. This paper aims to show the reasons why superficial changes would not serve this new transition and to give
five case studies that exemplify root change.
Keywords: Energy Transitions; Energy Debt; Energy Democracy; Energy Literacy
1. Introduction
Human beings have always needed energy to satisfy their basic requirements such as food, shelter, transportation, social
needs, and other desires. In the beginning, the energy used for this purpose was a result of a combination of the
availability of a particular resource and technological development, hence, biomass energy has dominated throughout
history [1]. Later, new factors have influenced the choice of the chosen resource, the economical and political strategies,
first of countries, and after of international brands. All these factors have generated shifts among resources, and we call
these energy transitions. There has been, however, a trend during these energy transitions: more and more energy has
been consumed per inhabitant after each transition. According to Smil, the world’s total primary energy supply (TPES),
increased from just over 10 EJ in 1750 to about 400 EJ by the year 2000 [2], with an increase of 4000% in the average
consumption of resources per person in the last 150 years. Furthermore, the historical indicator of development, GDP,
has a causal relationship with energy consumption level [3].
Nevertheless two critical points appear here, firstly that the energy consumption increase has been totally unfair
between different countries [4], as well as the different social classes of the same country; China is one of those
countries in which these phenomena are most easily perceived [5]. Secondly, if new indicators to measure the
development of a country are used, such as the Human Development Index (HDI), the causal relationship between
energy consumption and the level of development ceases to exist under some circumstances.
Apart from that, nowadays a new transition is being glimpsed, caused by a new topic, the global impact of our present
energy model. Climate change is the first of these impacts; According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate
Change (IPCC) Climate Change 2014 Report “Surface temperature is projected to rise over the 21st century under all
assessed emission scenarios. It is very likely that heat waves will occur more often and last longer, and that extreme
precipitation events will become more intense and frequent in many regions. The ocean will continue to warm and
acidify, and global mean sea level to rise.” [6]. Secondly, we have the social impact caused by the inequitable
distribution of energy resources: in energy generation processes such as dams [7], emotional impact caused by oil spills
[8], social impact due to new electricity grids in remote regions [9], oil extraction impact [10], deforested and degraded
land due to large plantations for biofuels [11], the impact of pipe line constructions in rural areas [12], or the energy
poverty arising from inequalities in the energy distribution process [13]. And last but not least, we have the crisis of
values derived from the emphasis on productivity in a system in which growth is the center of all well-being [14].
As an answer to these three new factors, in addition to the previous ones, demands for a new energy transition are
emerging in society. Unlike the last transitions, that were driven specially by governments or big economic-industrial
clusters, this new transition has strong support from small scale movements [15] which are bottom-up, spreading
methods [16] in order to change the current energy paradigm.
* Corresponding Author: ortzi.akizu@ehu.eus
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The goal of this work is to identify how different countries could act in order to proceed to create a new democratic, low
carbon and reproductive energy transition. Reproductive value is related to the value of regeneration in the energy field:
why do countries need energy? Who are the real beneficiaries of the current energy model? In order to achieve tangible
conclusions, the Spanish energy model has been selected to be compared with the German, Cuban, Ecuadorian and
Brazilian ones, with northern and southern countries included in the work in order to reach broader global conclusions.
Finally, China was also added to the charts in order to understand better the “energy debt” phenomena. Most countries
import industrial products from China, acquiring a hidden energy debt with the exporter.
At the same time, the coming energy transition is not going to be similar in all countries due to the increase of the
trigger factors of this transition, especially between North and South. In the Global North, high levels of HDI have been
achieved due to the increase of energy resources consumption, linking the new energy transition to the degrowth
movement. But in the Global South the situation is just the opposite, as energy consumption levels are remaining low,
as well as HDI levels. This is why the upcoming energy transition should not be a single transition but many, to be
based on the respect for each nation’s opportunities. To perform this transition it is clear that humans must change their
“energy consumption behavior[17].
This paper aims to show the reasons why superficial changes would not serve the new transition. A special effort has
been made to identify the real potential for change of society by doing electrical improvement at home. Furthermore,
the principal uses of primary energy in each country have been identified, and in the case studies a proposal for root
change examples has been made.
2. Methodology
The analysis of the energy sector has been normally divided into independent disciplines such as: economics, social,
politics, geography, engineering… and “practitioners of these disciplines normally publish their research in separate
journals” [17]. The first pillar of this paper has been to involve political, environmental and engineering researchers in
order to offer multidisciplinary insights of prospective transitions. The following pillar has been to have a clear
perspective of the interpretation of the data. There is a common myth in society that highly developed countries, such as
Germany [18] or Denmark are moving towards a low consumption energy model, mainly due to the efficiency concept.
To avoid confusion, a comparison has been made between the data of both highly developed countries and developing
countries interpreting this from various perspectives.
The third pillar has been to use the case study approach, which enables us to advance in the research of diverse
phenomena or conceptual patterns [19]. According to Simon [20] Case study is an in-depth exploration from multiple
perspectives of the complexity and uniqueness of a particular project, policy, institution, program or system in a “real
life” context.”. In order to complete the case study definition, Thomas [21] argues that “a case study must comprise two
elements: a “practical, historical unity,” which I shall call the subject of the case study, and an analytical or theoretical
frame, which I shall call the object of the study.”
The authors group has identified the selected case studies. Firstly the countries, which were the correct representatives
for northern or southern cases, were identified. Secondly specific social movements or communities were identified
inside the selected countries. Lastly quantitative and qualitative questionnaires were conducted with the principal
representative of each community/social movement. Each case was visited, and interviews carried out on location, with
more than 10 people interviewed per case.
Table 1. Analyzed Case Studies
Country
Subject
Object
Brazil
Movement of People Affected by Dams (MAB)
Energy for what and for whom?
Cuba
Cubasolar
“How Cuba Survives Peak Oil”
Ecuador
Yasunidos
Oil under the Soil”
Germany
Feldheim / Sieben Linden /
Rosa Luxemburg / Solar Settlement
Renewable Economy”/ “Communities”
“Public Management” / “Plus Energy”
Spain
Som Energia
“Energy Cooperatives”
3. Results
3.1. Energy consumption data perception.
It is often stated that since 1990, Germany and Denmark have been the countries best achieving the reduction
percentages of emissions of greenhouse gases, in kgCO2eq levels, whereas developing countries have increased their
emissions. Ironically, the same data could be provided in two different ways, depending on the reality that we would
like to prove. The first interpretation could be that “northern countries like Germany thanks to their energy efficiency
policies have reduced their emissions since 1990, Germany has reduced by 21.94% and Denmark by 30.27%, whereas,
southern countries like China, Ecuador or Brazil have increased their emissions by 241%, 90.15% and 83.74%
respectively Fig.1. The same data could be provided as “in 2013, German emissions are one of the highest in the
world, behind are the emissions of China, emitting 18.65% less, Ecuador, emitting 72.86% less, or Brazil 75.57%
emissions less per inhabitant.” Furthermore, this previous data does not include the energy that northern countries are
consuming in southern countries, due to the outsourcing of industrial consumer product manufacturing. Respectively,
northern countries like Germany, Spain or Italy are consuming 28.21%, 33.33% and 38.89% more primary energy, in
order to produce goods that they consume, in foreign and especially southern countries. However, this northern
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consumption and the CO2 emissions associated, is computed in the countries where the goods were produced [4]. We
could call this effect the hidden energy debt, since IEA does not gather final country consumption data Fig. 2(a).
Figure 1. Tons of CO2eq emission data coming from the fuel consumption from the energy supply of a country [22]
Due to this effect, countries like Denmark, which apparently has 25.30% less emissions per capita than Germany,
completely change their reality, since they consume 166.67% more energy than that which appears in the IEA data Fig.
2(a). Actually, the current energy literacy studies are not including this important factor [23]. Introducing the hidden
energy debt data to the emission values, we realize that countries that apparently have the same CO2 emission data as
Denmark per capita according to the IEA, for example China with 6.60 and Denmark with 6.91 kgCO2eq, in the new
calculations the data becomes 5.28 and 11.52 respectively Fig. 2(b). So it could be said that in the first case “according
to the International Energy Agency, in Denmark, the CO2 emissions are just 5% higher than in China per capita” or
“Denmark average emissions per capita are 218% that of China”. Important reports in sustainability measuring like the
Environmental Performance Index of Yale University, do not take into account the hidden energy debt, changing
completely the vision of a sustainable energy reference country [24].
Figure 2. Left (a): Percentage of real energy consumption according in 1995 (Black) and 2008 (Grey) taking into
account the hidden energy debt [4]. Right (b) Tons of equivalent CO2 emissions from IEA 2013 data (black), and real
emissions calculating the increase due to the hidden energy debt (own elaborated).
In conclusion, primary energy consumption is definitively higher in northern countries, as well as the associate CO2eq
emissions although they have been hidden or directly manipulated in order to appear more sustainable. This is the
reason that a new energy transition, in the case of course that we would like to consider the factor of equity of rights for
all inhabitants of world in order to share resources, should be completely different in northern and southern cases.
3.2. Identifying the critical energy consumption sectors or reduction possibilities
It is obvious that northern countries need to reduce their energy consumption levels, but the way to do this is not clear.
It is assumed that citizens’ awareness is directly related with their acts and their effects [25] however there is no
evidence that the actual citizens’ actions contribute to causing an energy transition, in fact this paper seems to contradict
this. It all derives from the first error of mixing the terms electricity and energy, which is more and more common.
Consumed electricity constitutes just a small percentage of the primary energy supply, e.g. in Germany 13.57%, Spain
15.65%, Cuba 10.95%, Brazil 14.00% and Ecuador 10.89%. The rest of the energy consumed in the country is used for
other purposes.
Figure 3. Left to right, Germany, Spain, Cuba, Brazil and Ecuador primary energy supply reshaping. Elaborated by the
authors remodeling the data of the International Energy Agency [22].
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From the data in Fig. 3 we could realize that home consumed electricity is residual (2.78% in Germany to 5.59% in
Cuba), due to that, to implement a strategy for a new energy transition the impact that citizens could have by controlling
the electricity generation at homes is superficial. Due to that we could understand the limitations of the energy literacy
in residential households studies [25]. Instead, deeper changes should be made in the current energy system, changing
the focus to: the hidden energy debt (just in the case of the northern countries, Spain and Germany in this case),
transformation losses, need of energy for product and services generation, or the transportation sector. This is directly
related with the energy literacy of society.
3.3. Case studies alternatives
Taking into account that the current energy model needs to be changed from the root, in each case study the most
significant proposals that could help to materialize a deep change towards the transitions to a democratic low impact
energy model have been detected.
3.3.1 Brazil
In the Brazilian case the socio-environmental impact of the big hydroelectric dams has been analyzed. In Brazil around
34,000 km2 of fertile lands have been flooded with more than 2,000 dams, of which 625 are hydroelectric [26]. In this
context the Movement of People Affected by Dams (Movimento dos Atingidos por Barragens, MAB) was founded in
the late 70’s. In the beginning they called for a just compensation for the affected people, but the claim has been
evolving, until the current situation. MAB demands that it is necessary to answer the question: What and who planned
and organized the energy sector in Brazil? Hydroelectricity generated problems are not only about a struggle of people
affected by dams. Currently MAB affirms that the current energy model and policy aims to respond to market demand,
the greed of corporations and increased productivity and consumption levels (with the consequent casualization of
production) with the only goal of generating the largest amount of private profit possible. Given this situation, they
claim that “water and energy are not commodities” but a basic need of citizens. In order to have the possibility to have
an impact on the national energy policy making, the Workers and Peasants Energy Platform was created (Plataforma
Operária e Camponesa para Energia, POCE), where several institutions, social movements, communities or political
parties or labor unions work together towards the design of a democratic energy system [26]. The role women have
played in this struggle is remarkable given that they had been rendered invisible [27].
3.3.2 Cuba
Cuba survived an energy famine during the 1990s, and how it did so constitutes one of the most important and hopeful
stories of the past few decades. It is a story not just of individual achievement, but of the collective mobilization of an
entire society to meet an enormous challenge” Richard Heinberg (2006) [28]. Cuba showed the world that peak oil
could be faced and overcome in a collective way. Although it wasn’t a democratic decision of inhabitants or a free
choice of governments, Cuba has been the only sustainable country in the world to achieve a 0.8 Human Development
Index value, maintaining the carbon footprint below the resources of one world [29], 1.5 ha per people as a demand on
the biosphere [30]. Nowadays, although in Cuba 87.34% of the energy supply is from fossil fuels, an average Cuban
citizen consumes 71.07% less fossil fuels than a German citizen and 59.48% less than a Danish citizen, without taking
into account the hidden energy debt. According to Julio Torres Martinez (from Cubasolar) Cuba is facing the 3rd energy
transition, the first arrived coal, the second with crude oil and petroleum and the third would arrive progressively with
energy-saving, efficient renewable energies, and the government aim is to achieve 24% of the primary energy supply by
2030 [26].
3.3.3 Ecuador
Yasuní Park occupies nearly one million hectares of rainforest in the Ecuadorian Amazon, with 150 species of
amphibians, 121 species of reptiles, 598 species of birds, between 169 and 204 species of mammals and between 2113
and 3100 species of flora. UNESCO designated it as a Biosphere Reserve in 1989. The Biosphere Reserve is home to
the Huaorani indigenous people and peoples in voluntary isolation as Taromenane and Tagaeri. Theirs is a society of
satisfied needs, so-called "affluent societies" [26]. Under the Yasuní area soil, there is 3,600 million dollars worth of
crude oil. The Yasunidos social movement is claiming to Leave the oil under the soil”, in order to progress in a
different developing values linked to the Sumak Kawsai”. Promoted by President Rafael Vicente Correa from 2007
2013, this would have left about one billion barrels of crude oil in the ground beneath the Ishpingo Tambo- cocha
Tiputini, nevertheless there wasn’t enough international financial support for Ecuador and the initiative has been
abandoned [31]. Instead multicriteria approaches to the problems show that once the social, environmental and other
criteria are incorporated, it is plausible to argue that the Yasuní-ITT Initiative scenario, where oil is left under the soil, is
the most desirable policy option for the region and for Ecuador [32].
3.3.4 Germany
In the German case, four different initiatives have been analyzed which contribute to the energy transition. First, the
village of Feldheim, where they have created a cooperative economic project to invest savings in renewable power
generation and become energy self-sufficient. In Feldheim they have show that new energy models can be economically
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viable, where they just consume 0.47% of the electricity that they produce [26]. Secondly the eco-village Sieben
Linden, where they propose an energy transition through the creation of an austere community changing the values of
the material consumption patterns. They have worked to create new community life patterns like common dining,
shared spaces, services and objects… with which they have achieved a reduction of 77% of the primary energy supply
in comparison with the German average.
Thirdly the neighborhood of "Solar Settlement" in the Vauban district of Freiburg: energy transition through a change in
architecture and urbanism. Where they have reduced energy consumption by 66% compared to the average national
electricity consumption and they have integrated into their homes the plus energy and passive house energy concepts.
Lastly, the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation, based in Berlin whose aim is to achieve a publicly managed democratic
energy system [26].
3.3.5 Spain
In the Spanish case, different initiatives from the Basque Country and Catalonia have been analyzed but due to the
difficulties for the quantitative comparison with the rest of countries, they have been subsumed as the Spanish case.
Different initiatives have been analyzed, especially city councils and communities, but as a representative case the Som
Energia Cooperative was chosen. It aims to achieve a model 100% renewable and energy sovereignty, i.e. a democratic
system serving the interests of citizens and not a few companies. In order to promote energy sovereignty, the
cooperative Som Energia bases its internal operation on the assembly meetings: anyone can join by contributing 100
euros to the cooperative, partners have the right to participate and vote at the annual meeting.
Although the electricity consumed at private homes constitutes only 5.16% of consumption, there is a real need to
change it in Spain. The corruption of politicians usingrevolving doorsto integrate themselves into the private energy
sector has been common in recent years. Josu Jon Imaz, Javier Balza, Mario Fernández, Juan Mari Atutxa, Felipe
Gonzalez, José Maria Aznar, Elena Salgado, Luis de Guindos, more than 50 politicians have been detected in the
Puertas Giratorias initiative [33] as well as in media [34], [35], [36], [37]. With this aim, the social movement
Plataforma por un Nuevo Modelo Energético has been created, which already in 2013 denounced the corruption in the
Spanish energy sector [38]. Citizens are calling for real changes to Spanish electrical energy management.
4. Conclusions
The current energy system is obsolete, corrupt and based on inequitable consumption. The solutions arising from
citizenship must be based on knowledge of the primary energy supply system, so that the change to a democratic low
impact energy model could be made from the roots and not in a superficial way. Energy literacy could be the
cornerstone to set out the road ahead, but this literacy shouldn’t be decoupled from a generation of new values based on
care. The case studies taught us that: energy shouldn’t be used as a commodity where the private sector could speculate
(Brazil); peak oil could be faced and overcome in a successful way (Cuba); fossil fuels could be left under the soil when
social values have more power than economic ones (Ecuador); renewable energy installations could be profitable, it is
possible to achieve the current HDI levels with much less energy consumption, public management of energy resources
should be encouraged (Germany); and political corruption in the electric energy field should be detected and avoided
(Spain).
Acknowledgements
We are grateful to the Basque Agency for Development Cooperation for the financial support to carry out this project,
as well as to all the members of the case studies that voluntarily answered the qualitative and quantitative interviews.
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