What does ‘energy transition’ mean?

The expression ‘energy transition’ refers to the move towards sustainable economies, through the use of renewable energy, the adoption of energy-saving techniques and sustainable development. Energy transition is a process that has accompanied the human race from the very beginning and has enabled the development and progress of human civilisation.

There are two fundamental elements that characterise an energy transition. The first is that it is a complex and time-consuming process, as it involves structural changes in the way energy is produced and used. The second concerns the impact of the energy transition on economic development, quality of life, social organisation and the environment. If we consider, for example, those countries that have not yet been decisively affected by the last energy transition, i.e. the one triggered by the Industrial Revolution, it is easy to see what the social benefits could be if modern energy sources were to become more widely available. Just think, for example, of the benefits electricity would bring to societies that still light their houses with candles or oil lamps, or the introduction of machinery into rural agriculture that relies mainly on human and animal power.

One or many transitions?

To be precise, we should speak of energy transition in the plural, because there are ‘multiple transitions’ that interact with one another and affect several components of the energy system. The components of an energy system that may be involved in an energy transition are:

  • Primary sources of energy, such as fossil fuels;
  • Machinery and technologies for energy transformation (e.g. turbines or electric motors);
  • Energy vectors, such as electricity or hydrogen, which originate from the transformation of primary sources;
  • The energy services required, such as heating, lighting or recent sustainable mobility.

What can such multiple transitions be triggered by? Again, there is no single process that leads to change, but many variables come into play. If changed, these can cause the energy system to evolve in one direction or another. The mechanisms driving an energy transition can be grouped into four broad macro-categories:

  • Availability and competitiveness of new energy sources;
  • Availability and competitiveness of new machinery and technologies for energy transformation;
  • Adoption of new energy and environmental policies;
  • A change in the type of energy services required by consumers.

Special reports

From the Multimedia section

  • energy

    Share of renewable electricity sources in total electricity sector consumption (2018)

    Look

    energy

    Per capita waste generation in EU, 2018

    Look

    energy

    Natural gas: the world top ten importers (2017)

    Look
  • energy

    Concentrating Solar Power (CSP) Global Capacity, 2020

    Look

    energy

    Oil, the world top 10 exporters (2018)

    Look

    energy

    Oil, the world top 10 importers (2018)

    Look
  • energy

    Percentage of electricity generated from nuclear sources (2019)

    Look

    energy

    World uranium demand

    Look

    energy

    Percentage breakdown of municipal waste management in Italy, 2015

    Look
  • energy

    Share of renewable electricity sources in total electricity sector consumption (2018)

    Look

    energy

    Per capita waste generation in EU, 2018

    Look
  • energy

    Natural gas: the world top ten importers (2017)

    Look

    energy

    Concentrating Solar Power (CSP) Global Capacity, 2020

    Look
  • energy

    Oil, the world top 10 exporters (2018)

    Look

    energy

    Oil, the world top 10 importers (2018)

    Look
  • energy

    Share of renewable electricity sources in total electricity sector consumption (2018)

    Look
  • energy

    Per capita waste generation in EU, 2018

    Look
  • energy

    Natural gas: the world top ten importers (2017)

    Look

Facts

  • 5 April 2022

    Recycling figures

    World Recycling Day is celebrated on 18 April. Where do we stand in Italy? According to the 2021 report of…

  • 11 April 2017

    New photocatalytic compounds

    The term "photocatalysis" refers to a phenomenon by which a substance alters the speed of a chemical reaction

  • 11 July 2016

    Hi-tech energy-storing flowers

    In the history of man, nature has always constituted an inexhaustible source of inspiration for the creation of technological systems...