What is energy transition and what does it entail? It is important to start by addressing this subject, as it will allow us to become familiar with the mechanisms, logical connections, as well as the technological constraints and other boundaries that govern the process of changing the energy system and that determine its direction and pace.
The energy transition is a process that has accompanied human history since its inception and has enabled the development and progress of human civilization. We will outline the features of energy transition to understand its meaning.
Its first characteristic is that (at least until now) it is a complex and long-term process, a process that involves human-driven structural changes to the means of energy production and use; these means are often referred to as the "energy paradigm".
The second characteristic is that an energy transition has a major impact on economic development, people’s quality of life, the social structure and the environment. For this reason, in countries which are yet to be negatively affected by the last energy transition – brought about by the first industrial revolution, as we shall address in a later article – where large sections of society do not have access to modern energy sources, the social benefits of their dissemination have enormous potential. In these countries, for example, the mere transition from a candle to electricity would enable the young population to study in optimum conditions and contribute to the progress of the country, overcoming poverty not only for themselves but for the wider population.
Lastly, we should not only think of energy transition as a monolithic process, associated merely with the application of a new technology or the dissemination of a new energy source. Every energy transition is underpinned by "multiple transitions" which interact and fed into each other, involving more than one of the main components of an energy system:
1. primary energy sources (sources found in nature, such as coal, oil and natural gas);
2. machines and technologies for energy conversion (e.g. electric motors, combustion engines, turbines);
3. energy carriers (i.e. forms of energy which – like electricity, gasoline or hydrogen – originate from the processing of primary sources
4. energy services in demand (e.g. heating, cooling, and more recently sustainable mobility).