Thanks to technological advances and climate change fears, energy has pushed to the front stage again. Governments have been slower to move. Also, as Vaclav Smil's article shows, the current energy system is based on high-energy density sources, like oil and coal, supplying nationwide energy grids ("21st century energy: Some sobering thoughts").
Huge expanses of land would be required for renewables to meet today's energy needs. But maybe "big" is just not the right fit for the new energy set-up. Rather, governments could do more to encourage renewables on a micro-scale, to cater for homes and villages with local sources, such as microwindmills and heat pumps. This "small is beautiful" approach might suit sprawling suburbs or outlying towns and villages. Rather than replicate huge networks, governments would provide know-how, regulatory assistance, standards, qualifications, and other guiding frameworks. Local energy awareness would grow because people would feel they have something to gain.
Governments can also build social houses with good insulation, or equip old ones with heat pumps. This kind of action seems to be happening only in pockets, if at all, while many national governments are caught in the headlights, unsure how to shift from large energy monopolies with all the baggage that entails, to a more smallscale approach. Yet it is in the "run-of-the-windmill" local arena where the real renewable promise can be delivered.
Technology is changing the scale of energy supply, and the real promise will happen only if governments alter their sights too.
—RJ Cleirigh, Dublin, Ireland
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©OECD Observer No 262, July 2007