Energy security and its mysteries

By Dainius Genys

Today energy security is one of the key issues of the Lithuanian economic policy. It is usually referred to as a technological or economic  energy self-sufficiency problem, yet recently more focus is given to the impact of energy on the development of society. This aspect creates prerequisites for discussion: what are the views of social sciences with respect to the national energy security?


While addressing relevant societal issues, sociology investigates the impact of indentifiable and unindentifiable powers on human life. Sociology analyses the impact of energy on the society and its behaviour, and the impact of the society on energy (in this case, on energy security).


In Lithuania energy security problems have been considered constantly, yet the question on whether society feels more secure is till open. Perception of security does not always depend on a real danger; it is also related to social processes which can increase or reduce the sense of security. Persons able to critically interpret the nature of a problem and a possibility to neutralise the problem, will feel more secure than those who don‘t understand the essence of the problem. Therefore perception of the risk and a sense of energy security depends not only on the objective factors but also on how these factors are interpreted by the society. From the sociological point of view, it is impossible to feel secure if you are concerned exceptionally about the reliability of energy infrastructure. It is also necessary to focus on risk perception by different groups of society and their interests, and to identify the reasons of their anxiety.


Another important aspect related to the sense of security is confidence in persons or institutions responsible for security/risks/threats, especially when they have to solve complex problems or determine development guidelines. When citizens have confidence in the institutions supervising energy risks/threats, they develop a sense of security. If there is no confidence in the above institutions or in their competence, even minor technological obstacles are evaluated inadequately.  Good standing of responsible persons may not only reduce the anxiety of citizens but could also facilitate a more smooth implementation of the energy security policy.


For instance, fore nearly two decades (in the period of 1988-1989) Lithuanian citizens supported the idea of the development of a nuclear energy, yet pursuant to the recent surveys and the referendum results, these attitudes have changed; more than 60 percent of Lithuanian voters said ‚no‘ to the construction of a new nuclear power plant (NPP). For quite a long time energy in Lithuania was related to a cheap and safe energy. Development of nuclear energy was contrasted with Russia‘s pressure, thus it was also referred to as a symbol of independence; whereas closing of the Ignalina NPP for some members of the society was one of the arguments against Lithuania‘s membership in the EU. In the long run, when nothing has happened without nuclear power, and because of the escalation of the ecological counter-arguments for nuclear energy and promotion of new effective ways for energy production, the society realised that nuclear energy is not irreplacable. Finally, the price of construction of a new NPP changed the attitude of the society toward nuclear energy.


It could be assumed that changes in the attitude toward nuclear energy are first of all related to a different interpretation of nuclear energy; whereas evaluation of nuclear energy as (non-secure) technology has become a secondary issue. Certainly, the role of the authorities incapable of ensuring effective development of the energy system was an important factor. The Government has been engaged in numerous scandals and the society didn‘t feel secure (with respect to energy security).


According to scientisists energy sector was mainly related to the progressive ideas; whereas today energy itself poses threat to the society‘s security. According to sociologist Ulrich Beck, the energy system is perceived as an integral part of the development of an industrial society, yet its development poses objective threats (environmental pollution, nuclear catastrophes, ecological disasters etc.) and determines the rise of a world risk society.


In the context of Lithuania‘s energy security the society‘s fear related to the approaching heating season could serve as a good example. A sense of uncertainty and constant risk occurs not just because of the increasing heating prices, but because of the inability to change the situation for decades.


We must not forget also a technological complexity of the energy system. The system developed during the modernisation process has eventually turned against an individual and now it poses a real threat. Risks and threats have been developed throughout the decades by attracting major technical and financial capacities; whereas now human beings have to tackle these threats individually. If interests of the society are presented inadequately, citizen become hostages of a huge energy system: an individual confronts this system without any tools to fight against it. This perception might increase the sense of unsecurity among the society members. 


The task of the state (in the context of energy security) is to enhance the sense of security among the citisens by reminding and practically demonstrating that they are not alone. At the same time it is necessary to define what is possible and what is not. Understanding sometimes helps to avoid uncertainty and can even increase the sense of security.