Sustainable Energy: Concept and Definition in the Context of the Energy Transition—A Critical Review

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The term sustainable energy is very familiar to all of us, yet its exact definition or meaning has so far been vague. To date, the widely adopted definition of sustainable energy has been inspired by the definition of sustainable development formulated more than 30 years ago in Our Common Future—the UN’s Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development. The current definition conceals the true spirit of the report, and this has some ramifications. It raises the question as to whether we have put too much emphasis on attaining the future dimension of sustainability in the middle of a situation where energy survivability is in fact the real issue in many parts of the world. In this paper, the role of energy in sustaining the livelihoods of low-income communities is discussed. The existing definition of sustainable energy that the whole world seems to have embraced is looked at critically and its downsides exposed. The identified pillars of sustainable energy and the associated issues are discussed, and the need for an additional pillar, i.e., affordability, is discussed and called for. This paper will argue that the global definition of sustainable energy seems inappropriate and should be jettisoned, and a more realistic definition should be formulated, adopted, and embraced at the local (i.e., national or regional) level taking into account local attributes and factors. The current push for a transition from the reliance on conventional energy sources to “cleaner” energy sources (generally associated with renewable energy) has further exacerbated the issue of energy affordability that has made the conditions even more dire for so many groups of the world’s population. In the midst of this situation, those who push for a rushed energy transition seem to be those who also produce an unsustainably high carbon footprint but who can easily offset their carbon footprint through the ‘net-zero’ concept.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1523
Pages (from-to)1-14
Number of pages14
JournalSustainability (Switzerland)
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2024

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