Beyond fossil fuels: Renewable energy or energy efficiency?
By Osman Cakli
According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the primary driver of increasing carbon dioxide levels is the use of fossil fuels. Approximately 81% of the world's primary energy production relies on fossil fuels. However, what alternatives are being discussed in the realm of energy production? The energy sector experts have yet to reach a consensus on energy production and utilization methods. The only agreed-upon point is the abandonment of fossil fuels and the closure of thermal power plants. In the second part of our energy and climate change series, we delve into the debates surrounding energy aside from fossil fuels.
Two prominent trends emerge from these discussions: one advocates for prioritizing energy efficiency, while the other promotes the substitution of 'renewable' energy sources like wind and solar.
AREAS TRANSFERRED TO COMPANIES BY THE STATE
Governments formulate action plans to reduce carbon emissions into the atmosphere through international agreements. Forestry and energy experts emphasize the role of forests within this context. Preserving forests, which act as carbon sinks in the fight against climate change, is crucial. Accelerated deforestation due to government policies contributes to increased climate change and more extreme weather events.
For instance, data from the General Directorate of Forestry indicates that between 2012 and 2022, 10 million square meters of forest area were allocated for nuclear power plants. According to a study by TEMA, 59% of Mugla's total area is licensed for mining. Muğla is also divided into 1,449 mining licenses.
The consequences of policies such as urbanization, asphalt pouring, coal-dependent energy production, and deforestation have led Turkey to experience a record 550 extreme weather events in 2010, its hottest year. This record was subsequently equaled from 2017 to 2022, with 1,034 extreme weather events occurring in Turkey in 2022 alone.
'ENERGY POVERTY AMID ABUNDANCE'
Amid increasingly severe climate conditions, climate and energy experts provide recommendations and critiques concerning government action plans and future steps. Following the move away from fossil fuels, various trends have emerged regarding future energy strategies.
While some academics advocate for rapidly replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy systems such as solar and wind, others argue that prioritizing energy efficiency and consumption reduction is the correct approach.
Energy and Climate Expert Onder Algedik noted that Turkey has an installed electricity capacity of 104,000 MW, with consumption ranging from around 37-38,000 MW. Even during peak usage, Turkey's electricity consumption remains below 50,000 MW, leaving a more than 100% surplus. Despite the excess capacity, access to energy remains a challenge, as documented by a study conducted by the Union of Chambers of Turkish Engineers and Architects (TMMOB).
'ENERGY EFFICIENCY IS LACKING'
Algedik underscored the absence of energy efficiency in Turkey, asserting, "Who is financing this? We are. There is no energy efficiency in Turkey. If there were, we could reduce our highest value of 50,000 MW to 40,000 MW and bring average consumption below 30,000 MW. This is equivalent to closing down all coal-fired thermal power plants. Therefore, the information provided by these companies is all lies. They possess this information and are misleading society." Algedik stressed that a system that destroys nature cannot be considered a renewable energy alternative; instead, the focus should be on energy efficiency.
'WE ARE BEING DECEIVED'
Algedik further revealed that the public funds, both working and non-working power plants, and companies, receive support from the state's energy capacity mechanism. He criticized, "This is not enough; they are also destroying the underground. None of these actions carry any cost. They are turning us around and deceiving us. Put the Paris Climate Agreement aside, which of the agreements signed until today have been beneficial? None have been implemented. If they consider the contracts, they will shut down thermal power plants individually."
'DESTROYING NATURE'S DOMINION'
Algedik also addressed the destruction of the forest for electricity production in Akbelen, stating, "A tree is not a commodity that can be cut down and transported. A tree is part of the forest ecosystem. Companies claim they 'plant trees,' but what happens to the soil? A single centimeter of soil forms over a hundred thousand years. They are destroying the dominion of nature. A tree is part of a life."
'TURKEY DOES NOT RENEW ITS ELECTRICITY GRID'
According to Algedik, Turkey produces electricity wastefully and spends money without reason. He asserted that living without electricity is possible. He emphasized that if Turkey improved its electricity grid, it could significantly reduce power losses and even shut down power plants by 2-3 percentage points. He stressed that the problem lies in producing excess electricity:
"YK Enerji produces excess electricity. The systems in Turkey could be more efficient. Why do air conditioners work intensely in all cities during these months? Because we're investing in electricity due to the lack of insulation in homes. Air conditioners account for only about 3% of electricity consumption during these months. Politics is not working for us; we need to make politics work for us."
'LONG-TERM ENERGY EFFICIENCY DISCUSSIONS'
Mahir Ulutas, President of the Chamber of Electrical Engineers, highlighted the surplus capacity. He stated that energy production methods include fossil fuels and renewable energy sources such as wind, solar, rivers, and hydropower. Ulutaş emphasized the need to increase the share of renewable energy sources in Turkey's energy portfolio and stressed that gradually phasing out fossil fuels is necessary. He noted:
"Alternatives to fossil fuels must be gradually introduced. However, setting up solar panels is only a short-term solution. Rare metal mining for producing panels has negative effects. In the long term, we need to discuss energy efficiency and how rational consumption can be. If we don't ask these questions, solar energy will only address some problems. There is a dual choice regarding Akbelen. The first is a short-term focus on capital gains. The second is a matter of civilization. You are creating irreversible effects on the world by choosing fossil fuels, a dirty option that neglects energy-saving potentials."
'RENEWABLE ENERGY WITH A PUBLIC UNDERSTANDING'
While experts agree on specific aspects of renewable energy, they differ on other points. Sabanci University's Istanbul Policy Center climate studies coordinator, Dr. Umit Sahin, contends that the only way to break free from fossil fuels is through renewable energy sources. He emphasizes the necessity of opting for energy sources that do not harm agricultural basins, biodiversity, and health. However, Şahin underlines that these choices should be made after scientific, democratic, and participatory Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) processes.
Dr. Murat Turkes, a member of the Board of Directors of the Bogazici University Climate Change and Policies Implementation and Research Center, highlights the importance of energy sources that do not harm agriculture, biodiversity, and health while discussing energy. He asserts that such options should be chosen through scientifically-sound and participatory processes. Turkes advocates for public investment in renewable energy and highlights that Turkey's wind and solar energy potential exceeds its energy demand. He stated, "The public sector has already investigated this issue, but priorities come into play here. Are you in favor of nature or major corporations? I'm talking about an investment that can be made without harming nature, air, water, and climate. Corporations are not concerned about human health and agriculture; they only aim for profits with cheap labor and the support they receive. We must utilize energy efficiently and adequately and discuss energy with a public understanding."