Dictatorship of the Energy Experts
A transition from coal and nuclear energy to renewables demands radical reforms of our energy systems. Ecological concerns might manifest themselves in undemocratic politics.
In 2011, Germany decided to shut down its nuclear power plants by 2022. A year later, many people are still under the impression that the so-called “energy transition” is nothing more than a shift from ecologically harmful energy sources to technologies that create electricity from harmless and environmentally friendly energy sources. According to this view, we simply replace unwanted technologies with desirable technologies in a gigantic economic project: A technological revolution that doubles as the driving force behind a second economic miracle.
Increasingly however, it is becoming evident that the energy transition will have to radically alter our society, our general economic framework and our political system if it is to be successful.
It starts with the fact that the energy sector is not only tasked with replacing one technology with another one, but has to confront a fundamental paradigm shift: until now, the sources of electricity production - coal, uranium, gas, or oil - were transported to the power plant, which in turn were built in proximity to areas of high energy demand. The amount of electricity that was produced could roughly be tailored to meet changing levels of demand, with the electricity grid acting as a compensating force.
After energy transition, the production of electricity will be temporally and geographically independent of electricity demand. This drastically increases the complexity of electricity supply networks and requires us to develop a new logic of coordination and distribution. If the vulnerability to failures of recent technological projects is any indication, we have reason to be worried.