The scale and urgency of the energy challenge requires being smart. While policy-makers are usually
smart, most are stuck with a broken action paradigm that does not allow them to even think of smart
solutions. The new paradigm for action relies on resilience, openness, and mass collaboration.
One of the only things everybody seems to agree on is that solving the energy crisis is a hell of a
challenge. On the supply side, the peak oil behind us, the supply of fossil fuels will only get more
expensive, economically and ecologically. In addition, Fukushima definitely undermined the credibility
of nuclear energy as an alternative option. On the demand side, the thirst for energy of emerging
countries is constantly growing as their population and economies are developing. As a result energy
prices are rocketing and consequences are dire for the population and the economy. Already before
2008 and the start of the financial and economic crisis, GDP growth was under huge stress due to
historic oil prices. On top of that, the science is unanimous in pointing the use of fossil fuels as the
main responsible for climate change. The energy crisis is severe, but it is part of a bigger picture; its
solution has to account for this bigger picture.
Shifting the focus to increasing the resilience of the energy system
Through their energy system, Europeans are vulnerable to a myriad of risks. They are vulnerable to
foreign decision-makers in non-democratic countries such as Russia, which can decide to cut gas
supply. They are vulnerable to global oil prices which fluctuate according to factors such as
speculation, geo-political events, or disasters (e.g. the Hurricane Katrina). They are vulnerable to the
consequence of a nuclear catastrophe which is a more frequent event than any of the risk assessment
models had ever anticipated. Eventually, they are vulnerable to the collapse in chain of old, centralized
and poorly interconnected energy grids.
As systems become more interconnected, they also become more complex, and managing risk turns
increasingly difficult. In the era of climate change, the uncertainty in the frequency and amplitude of
natural disasters increases with every ton of CO2 emitted in the atmosphere. The energy system has to
integrate these new conditions and become not only greener, but more resilient; resilience being the
capacity of a system to absorb a shock and recover quickly after. A production dependent on a few
providers or centralized in a few points is a source of vulnerability. This is the other lesson of
Fukushima: an energy infrastructure that relies on the atom is by definition vulnerable. Current
evaluations estimate the cost of the nuclear disaster for the sole compensation and cleaning up to
around 300 billion dollars. This does not take into account the cost on the economy implied by the
energy shutdowns that have resulted. To become more resilient to natural disasters and global risks we
have to move away from the atom and the unmanageable nature of the risk it implies; as we have to
move away from fossil fuels to preserve our climate. Beyond that, we have to seek the energy
independence of regions, not only countries, by localizing energy production as close as possible to the
Crowdsourcing energy production to turn passive users into critical providers
Electricity is reckoned as the most promising of the energy carriers, but huge room for improvement
remains. For the last ten years, everybody has been talking about smart-grids. Indeed, making the
energy network able to carry production and consumption data in any direction allows to fine tuning
electricity production and avoiding huge waste while increasing the stability of the grid. It also makes possible a conceptual switch from an electricity grid that is centralized around a few large
infrastructures to a completely decentralized grid and energy production that are eventually more
resilient and better equipped to adapt to future energy needs.
Beyond the resilience imperative, switching to such a complete decentralization approach could have a
huge impact in changing our energy culture. Through the ownership of energy production, individuals
and communities are likely to question their consumption. Wikipedia has answered the encyclopedic
challenge by asking the crowd to provide the knowledge, and letting every user becoming a knowledge
producer. The result is the best encyclopedia you can find and it only gets better overtime. Why not
crowdsourcing energy production?
How can we ask people to change their energy culture while remaining passive and blind users?
Energy use should become visible at any moment. Smart meters open the possibility for the people to
know about their consumption/production ratio in real-time and give them the opportunity to
improve it. People need to have a free access to this data, and soon, iPhone apps would flourish
allowing you to monitoring your own energy consumption and offering trips to decrease it. This is
called open-grids. By making robust energy data available and open, governments at all levels and
communities would be able to better understand their consumption patterns and integrate that into
public decisions. Entrepreneurs could also propose innovative services using open data. Instead of
trying to drive the boat and row at the same time policy-makers should focus on how to create a
context where solutions can emerge on their own: then individuals and communities will power the
Opening the data box, unleashing innovation
Innovation remains a huge obstacle in solving the energy crisis. Our innovation framework is broken.
In 2010 over $400 billion of subsidies a year to fossil fuels and an unknown amount for nuclear energy
while the total – private and public – annual investment worldwide in clean energy is only $243
billion. This has to change. Feed-in tariffs can help in getting renewables tech maturing, but they have
to guarantee it does not allow some to make an excessive profit through large-scale industrial
installations. We should anyway go much further than subsidies.
In their defining book Macrowikinomics, Tapscott and Williams, define a new energy paradigm based
on open-grids and pro-sumers. But, their approach goes much further than the sole energy sector.
They show how mass collaboration through the web 2.0 is changing the way we work, learn, live,
create, govern, and care for one another. They apply the approach to a dozen of policy sector such as
transport, climate change, innovation, or the financial markets. Importantly, they challenge
intellectual property as it currently stifles innovation. They provide a full set for decision-makers to
step in the era of mass collaboration and collective intelligence for the benefit of all. They urge to open
the data box, to reshape patenting schemes and innovation policies in order to rip the benefits mass
collaboration can bring to innovation and governance, including in the energy sector.
Energy is at the center of our current economic system. We will not solve the energy crisis without
involving all actors; we cannot let our energy future to a few decision-makers who decide the
construction of multi-billion nuclear plants. The beauty of ecology is that time and, more surprisingly,
technology development seems to always confirm the idea that solving collective problems such as
resource scarcity can only be done with the people, by the people and for the people. At last the digital
age makes this possible. As the younger generation of ecologists we have to grab this new reality and
the opportunity it offers, and explain this to the others.