Accentuating Energy Security amidst COVID-19 and Disaster Risk Management

Accentuating Energy Security amidst COVID-19 and Disaster Risk Management


Pooja Sharma

Amidst the health catastrophe of COVID-19, coupled with the natural disasters on the account of Climate Change, countries strive for energy security. In addition to health disasters such as Malaria outbreak, Ebola Virus Disease, SARS, etc., natural disasters such as earthquakes, tsunamis, heat waves, cyclones, etc., have also become frequent. Approximately 396 natural disasters were recorded worldwide in 2019, causing around 11,755, at the cost of around $130 billion. The impact of such disasters on power networks and energy services becomes relentless. Enhancing resilience of power system, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, refers to “strengthening the ability of a system and its parts anticipate, prepare for, absorb, accommodate, or recover from the effects of a hazardous event in a timely and efficient manner, including through the preservation, restoration, or improvement of its basic structures and function.

In this backdrop, building resilient power systems is a challenging endeavour, especially in the case of countries that are energy deficient. Visualizing the impact of COVID-19 health pandemic on the energy sector, it is witnessed that the pandemic has affected the security of most of the conventional energy resources. The collapse of oil prices as one of the consequences of health catastrophe offers a series of opportunities and collaborations for recovery and opportunities for a new energy order as evidenced in the creation of recent alignments between the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and the G20 countries. Massive disruptions in the supply chains have majorly affected the renewable energy sector, disincentivizing the investors and other stakeholders. However, the COVID-19 pandemic unfolds hidden opportunities for re-building energy systems that would be more reliable and durable, thereby facilitating energy transition across all countries. The savings on oil import bill on account of decline in prices must be mobilized for establishing the foundation for a diversified energy source to achieve energy transition. Moreover, the crises render opportunities for the stakeholders of all energy sources to redesign the energy order to foster a sustainable energy transition pathway across the globe.

In a health pandemic such as this, the need for constant electricity supply is undisputable. In developing countries such as India and South Africa, access to reliable electricity for health facilities is extremely scant. A reliable and uninterrupted supply of electricity to hospital and local communities further re-enforces the significance of decentralized and community-based energy systems for empowering local systems by preparing them for health disasters.

The ability to connect and respond to the crises at the time when there are rules of social-distancing and lock-downs, it is incredibly imperative to be connected through cyberinfrastructure systems for the accessibility of basic needs of health and food. The entire foundation of cyberinfrastructure is based on an uninterrupted, reliable flow of electricity. Access to doctors, medicines, etc. are vital responses for such crises. Consequently, access to reliable, affordable electricity takes a center stage of all challenges to stay connected with public services.

Ensuring freedom of energy sources or energy choices, accessibility and affordability are the needs of the hour. A health hazard or a natural calamity poses the challenge of uninterrupted energy supply that is critical in managing the disaster response. Such energy security that pertains to the choice of energy source emphasizes the immense need for diversification coupled with energy transition and the notion of the decentralized energy system. Off-grid renewable energy sources such as mini-grids or solar home systems would be the most appropriate consumer choice of energy. An indigenous energy source or a decentralized system would be a sustainable energy option. In this context of disaster risk management, energy transitions perceived by the developing countries must target for the independence of energy choices and for the flexibility to deploy a set of a diversified energy mix in the entire gambit of energy supply.

Globally, energy demand has reduced sharply, as almost one-third of the population has stayed indoors. Strengthening the financial stability and the well-being of state-owned energy utilities are crucial aspects that should be addressed adequately in post-COVID India. The ownership of transmission, distribution and regulators should be strategically planned to avert the situation of disruption of power supply during the disaster.

A wide range of systems and processes are required to channel preparedness, response and recovery to varied stakeholders involved in the energy sector, namely utilities, policymakers, regulators and financiers. A symbiosis of market players in the energy sector, mainly the investors and insurance companies on one side and other stakeholders, on the other hand together must mobilize the finances and funds to achieve disaster risk resilience.

In this regard, a well-structured energy charter, fostering decentralized energy systems along with infrastructure grid connectivity between the neighbouring countries is highly recommended. Such a re-oriented energy model would not only enable the countries to address the challenge of preparedness for disaster risk but also ensure energy security for the region as a whole during the crises. Various bilateral and multilateral institutions for regional integration such as SAARC, BIMSTEC, BBIN, etc. must advocate more efficient and effective energy cooperation for energy transition as well as energy security for disaster risk management.

Pooja Sharma is a faculty at Daultat Ram College, Delhi University, India.