Reflections from education abroad: international energy transitions

By Ellie Cox, Assistant to the Associate Director, CSU Energy Institute and junior in CSU’s Department of Economics.

In its search for an understanding of energy transitions in European nations, the education abroad group met with a diverse selection of organizations, including policy groups, think tanks, engineering and technology groups, as well as international organizations. Each organization provided a different perspective to enrich our learning of the energy sector throughout Europe. The group found that perspectives vary largely from country to country and depending upon the scale of the energy transition. For instance, an energy transition in a local community is vastly different from an energy transition across the European continent.

This fishing boat took the education abroad group to Middelgrunden Wind Farm (the first off-shore wind farm ever created), 3.5km off the coast of Copenhagen, Denmark. Read more about the Energy Club Student Ambassadors visit here.

Two key international organizations the education abroad group met with in Paris were the International Energy Agency (IEA) and the Clean Energy Ministerial (CEM). Both of these organizations use different models to assist in the facilitation of energy transitions. The International Energy Agency uses a similar structure to that of the United Nations or European Union in that IEA decision-making bodies require majority votes from member countries to implement decisions. The IEA’s role involves more than decision-making. The IEA provides analytics and in-depth information to member countries, to ensure intelligent policy-making and project development from member countries and affiliated groups.

In contrast, the CEM takes on a brand new and entirely unique structure to energy transitions. The CEM describes itself as a global forum with a distributed leadership model that promotes high-level clean energy related policies and programs in its member countries. Similar to the IEA, the CEM is comprised of member nations, with private sector partners in some campaign projects. The CEM differs from the IEA in the structure of its “Initiatives” and “Campaigns” however. Initiatives are country-led, broad subject areas in which various nations lead ambitions to progress in a particular field of energy (i.e. Energy Access, Electric Vehicles, and Women in Energy). Participation in Initiatives from member nations is completely optional, allowing nations to participate in Initiatives that align with their goals and pass up on others. Campaigns are then more specific projects within Initiatives that provide a more detailed framework to progress towards a well-defined goal.

The classic downtown area of Copenhagen. Photo by Ellie Cox.

The education abroad group found that from an international perspective, energy policy is not a one size fits all process. Denmark, which is a small country, can use a much different energy model than a larger country such as Germany. Denmark has such high levels of efficiency with renewables because it has access to a large wind resource, has a smaller population, and has fiscal benefits to the use of wind versus that of oil (in the 1970’s Denmark imported 99 percent of its oil). The education abroad group has found that across the continent of Europe, each nation faces its own unique clean energy related challenges and various solutions to best fit each country’s culture and demands.

A canal in Bruges, Brussels, the town where New Belgium had its start in a bar called Brugs Beertjes Bierboetiek. Photo by Ellie Cox.