New paths to energy security: demand-oriented solutions

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 (Image: Pixabay CC0)
(Image: Pixabay CC0)

Energy systems that are essential to our daily lives are increasingly threatened by wars, pandemics, climate change and other unexpected events. An international team of researchers has found that demand-side approaches have far greater potential to reduce our vulnerability to energy crises than supply-side measures.

Governments generally rely on supply-side measures to improve energy security and ignore demand-side options. Current indicators and indices for measuring energy security focus mainly on energy supply. This is in line with the view of the International Energy Agency, which defines energy security exclusively as security of supply. However, this approach does not fully capture the vulnerability of states, companies and individuals in the event of an energy crisis.

"When assessing energy security, the vulnerability of countries, companies and households to energy crises, the benefits of reduced energy demand and the cost of energy must also be taken into account," explains Nuno Bento, researcher at the Instituto Universitario de Lisboa and lead author of the study. "Therefore, we developed a more systematic approach to measure the impact of policies on energy security that takes into account both energy supply and demand. This allowed us to compare measures on the supply side with measures on the demand side in sectors such as buildings, transport and industry.

Bento and his colleagues found that measures that focus on reducing demand are more effective than traditional supply-side approaches in making countries less vulnerable to converging energy crises.

"Energy security is more than just security of supply, as other economic, social and environmental aspects are also important. This approach provides a lever to avoid cascading losses caused by successive energy transformations," explains Arnulf Grübler, co-author and IIASA Distinguished Emeritus Research Scholar and Honorary Professor at the University of Leoben. His colleague Volker Krey, Head of the Integrated Assessment and Climate Change Research Group in the IIASA Energy, Climate and Environment Program and co-author of the study, emphasizes that demand-side measures offer clear benefits for improving energy security in many areas, including continuity, affordability and sustainability.

In their study, published in the journal Science, the researchers suggest that future studies should compare the benefits of different energy security policies and take the demand side into account. Instead of relying on partial assessments and problematic indicators such as import dependency, they should broaden their scope and undertake a more comprehensive assessment of social and environmental impacts.

"At every level, whether for individuals or countries, it is more advantageous to start with efficiency and demand-side measures. This relieves the energy system in the long term and facilitates decarbonization on the supply side. Put simply, it is easier to stay warm in a well-insulated house with decentralized heating sources, even if the gas supply fails or prices skyrocket," summarizes Benigna Boza-Kiss, researcher at the IIASA Program on Energy, Climate and Environment and co-author of the study.