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The leap from oil to energy transition

According to the Colombian Energy Plan known as “Energy Ideology 2050, published in 2015 by the Mining Energy Planning Unit (UPME, for its Spanish acronym), the energetic transition is the “significant set of energy pattern changes of a society which impact the resources, the carriers, the equipment and the energy services.” This concept is in the center of the political definitions.

For some, this is the third industrial revolution, based on renewable energies, while the first was linked to coal and the second to oil. These revolutions include changes in the manner of producing electricity, industrial and agricultural assets, and transportation of consumptions patterns which require time.

This transition could have begun in the 60s with the concern of climate change of the Club of Rome, passing by the United Nation’s Earth Summit of Río and the commitment of these organisms with the decade of transition, 2014-2024.

The developed countries have progressed with concrete programs; for instance, Germany has set an objective that for 2050 produce 60% of its electricity with renewable sources, while the U.K. seeks 15% but in the shorter term (2020). Its programs look to achieve energy efficiency, supply security, and stimulus to renewable energies as well as carbon capture.

On another front, the United States plans to change its consumption patterns, stimulate innovation and intelligent networks for a transition into an electric model, with generation far from the consumption areas, with a distributed energy pattern which does not require the current heavy transmission lines.

The Trump administration is leaning towards coal mining and shale hydrocarbons, obtained via fracking and relieving environmental restrictions.

Despite the progress of Germany, the United States and the U.K; China, India, and Brazil, are the three countries with the greatest world demand growth (90%) for 2035. Therefore, the feasibility of an energy transition will depend in great measure on its public policies.


The acquired importance of the energetic transition in public agendas is due to several causes. The first is that in 20 years the energy consumed will have increased by a third. However, the International Energy Agency projects that for 2035 there will be 1 billion people in the world without access to electricity and 2.7 billion without access to clean fuels for kitchen and heating in Asia and Africa. The question is how to supply energy in a sustainable manner. In the second place, the concern for global warming has greater echo among the new generations and the diffusion of facts of climate change is now greater. In third place, there is fear for the safety of oil supply, a renewable resource which could be reaching its maximum production in face of a growing consumption. In fourth place are the growing difficulties to build large hydroelectric plants and energy and hydrocarbon transportation networks due to the opposition of local communities. All this stirs interest into less contaminating alternative energy sources and supply models which close the gap between the demand and offer.

The governments and large energy companies are main characters of this transition. The former through stimuli and taxing, besides allotting public funds for R&D and the latter through diversifying traditional energy and hydrocarbon businesses towards divisions devoted to renewables energies. Corporations such as Shell and Enel allot important sums of money to R&D and to form human capital as well as to energy efficiency and alternative energy pilot projects.

The transition as an alternative to guaranteeing supply stability and sustainability is not exempt from hardships: “For instance, let’s think about in the amount of steel to build power aerogenerators or the materials such as indium and germanium used for solar panels and very limited in nature [...] also the recycling systems need to be established and strengthened for the necessary materials for sustainable energy development. […] They include voluminous materials such as cement, copper, and steel, besides rare or toxic materials, such as neodymium or cadmium”1.

All sectors need to be subjected to public measures. Initiatives to use clean fuels in massive transportation systems are known, but actions are also needed in food systems, which currently consume 30% of the energy available in the world and generates more than 20% of the world greenhouse effect emissions”; 85% of this energy is based on fossil fuels2.

Orderly progress  

The investment required for this transition is enormous. In countries such as Colombia, funds are limited and both poverty and access issues continue to be high. The contribution of taxes, royalties, and oil dividends are important for the government and the territorial administrations.

Therefore, the challenge consists of carefully planning the energetic transition to a minimum of 30 years; gradually eliminating subsidies and allowances and redirecting those funds toward diversifying local economies, environmental management and to R&D and climate change adaptation.

Colombia is aware of the reality of the transition; therefore, the Development Plan of the next administration should include measures to:

  • Begin to fund transition with resources coming from fossil fuels.
  • Have the contribution of consumers, producers, and authorities to reduce emissions and raise energy efficiency.
  • Build other productive competences in oil regions funding these programs with royalties.
  • Improve institutional framework and environmental management and guarantee access to renewables.
  • Invest in R&D and innovation to make energy efficiency and renewable expansion viable.

The energy transition has already begun but will take time. It is possible to advance in an orderly and gradual manner, using the resources available to finance it.

 1, 2 Organización de Estados Iberoamericanos para la Educación, la Ciencia y la Cultura. S.f.circa 2012 La transición energética. Una nueva cultura de la energía.

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