Energy policy goals positions and debates

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In most countries, energy policy pursues four goals, namely 'access', 'security', 'efficiency' and 'environment'. In developing countries the first goal is likely to constitute the main focus of domestic energy policy. With around 2 billion people worldwide lacking access to basic 'modern' energy services, it is unlikely that environmental concerns would be at the forefront of developing countries' energy policy priorities. In industrial countries, however, all four goals are likely to have significant influence. The desire is for everyone to have access to fuel and electricity on a reliable, continuous basis, and to convert and use it in ways that are not wasteful and do not cause unacceptable harm to human health or the natural environment.

Walt Patterson (2006) argues that 'energy policy' has focused too strongly on commercial transactions involving units of fuel and electricity: if the policy sphere is 'energy' then it should focus on the complete energy system, including relevant infrastructures and non-commercial or 'ambient' energy sources. Warmth and light from the sun, and from human bodies themselves, are significant sources of thermal comfort in houses built with energy services in mind. In the past, ambient energy played a central role in people's use of energy and in many developing countries it still does. This is reflected in vernacular forms of housing design and wearing warm clothing indoors in winter. In other words, the energy system in this view includes many artefacts and natural processes that are not considered in the prevailing energy policy 'frame'.

One could say that the emphasis has been on the 'getting', 'selling' and 'buying' (access and security) aspects of energy policy, whereas how energy is converted and used and how this fits into the natural environment (resource efficiency, environment) have not been at the core of energy policy. In this section, using the example of UK energy policy, there are illustrations of the way in which each of the four key goals outlined above has been discursively constructed in ways that reinforce the current framing of energy policy, while highlighting shifts within the discourse and associated interests.

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