Factors affecting energy availability

There are several reasons why global energy supply is not even. Places that have less energy are disadvantaged as a result.

Factors affecting energy supply

Access to energy supplies is affected by:

  • Physical factors - fossil fuels were formed millions of years ago. New supplies of fossil fuels are sometimes found, but only in places that have the right geology.
  • Cost of exploitation and production - wages count towards the overall cost of energy production. This has led to some resources being unprofitable, eg the UK has coal supplies, but it is too expensive to exploit them. When the global price of oil increases, drilling becomes profitable in many harder to reach locations
  • Technology - improvements in technology can open up new opportunities for energy use. Fracking is the process of extracting shale gas. The USA now carries out fracking, which has increased their energy supplies. Wind turbines and solar panels are becoming more efficient and so these are being used in more countries.
  • Political factors - war can destroy energy resources or make them difficult to exploit. Corruption can mean that money is spent on things other than energy projects.
Burning oil fields after the Iraqi retreat from Kuwait in 1991
In 1991, Iraqi troops withdrew from their invasion of neighbouring Kuwait. As they left, they set fire to many of the country's oil wells

Impacts of energy insecurity

There are many different ways of defining energy security. In the UK, the government aims to ensure that consumers have access to the energy that they require, at prices that avoid volatility. Most countries that use this definition produce their own energy or import it from politically-stable countries.

Energy insecurity is the opposite of this. There are several impacts of energy insecurity, some of which these impacts are linked.

  • Exploitation of difficult and environmentally-sensitive areas - countries like to find new sources of energy and this sometimes means that they use environmentally-sensitive areas. Fragile ecosystems can be put at risk as the desire for energy is greater than the desire for environmental protection.
  • Economic and environmental costs - imported fuel is expensive. Exporting countries set the prices for fuel, leaving importing countries vulnerable. Some fuels cause a lot of pollution, eg coal causes smog and releases greenhouse gas when burnt. Mining for the raw materials for energy can also cause environmental problems with loss of habitats, noise and visual pollution.
  • Food production - exploiting energy resources often uses valuable farmland. The growth of the biofuel market has also led to crops being grown as a fuel, rather than as food. This can cause food shortages and push food prices up as supply falls lower than demand.
  • Industrial output - manufacturing relies on energy. When energy is in short supply, it costs more to buy. This makes manufacturing more expensive. Countries that experience energy insecurity usually have a lower industrial output.
  • Conflict - energy insecurity can cause conflict. Dams are a good example of this. Rivers often flow through more than one country. If a country upstream builds a dam to generate hydroelectric power (HEP), then a country downstream will have less water.
Satellite image of construction of a dam on the Nile in Ethiopia
There have been tensions between Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia over plans to build a large HEP dam on the river Nile in Ethiopia