Debbie Spillane, Ask T. H. Brüel

April 9, 2024

The Energy trilemma: What is it and how does it influence EU energy policy

Europe has the unenviable task of securing stable energy supplies from renewable sources at affordable prices. We investigate how EU policymakers can address the trilemma.

A recent report from Ramboll Management Consulting revisited an analysis of the energy trilemma in Europe in light of policy discussions around the European Unions’ green energy transition. That transition has been challenged in recent years by conflict in Europe the past two years, which has had an impact on supply, stability, and price of energy – but also been an impetus to seeking more sustainable long-term solutions. We interviewed Ask T. H. Brüel, Global Head of Energy & Utility at Ramboll, to understand why he believes the energy trilemma remains ever relevant.
What is the energy trilemma and why does it matter for the EU?
Ask T. H. Brüel: The trilemma addresses three areas: energy security, affordability, and sustainability. When setting energy policy, it is a constant challenge to balance these three, especially when it comes to security versus sustainability during the energy transition.
Due to the current crisis triggered by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the affordability aspect has also grown in importance.

The crisis could be considered as a trigger that highlights just how important it is to ensure the trilemma is included in policymaking from a long-term perspective.

Ask T. H. Brüel
Global Head of Energy & Utility at Ramboll

This could mean conducting an impact assessment of the trilemma when creating energy policy.
What were the top two takeaways of the report?
In the EU, we have managed to diversify significantly from Russian energy supply. But if we want to truly diversify, we still have a long way to go. Sanctions at an EU level were key to this diversification, which in turn lead to sizeable growth for other suppliers of liquified natural gas (LNG). Although this means the EU is now sourcing energy from a variety of other supplying nations, there is still quite a high dependency on only a few countries, such as Norway and the US. The first takeaway is that we still need to focus on the right way to diversify the energy supply.
Secondly, it raises questions about how to best balance short- and long-term goals. For example, Germany prolonged their use of fossil fuels to secure energy during the crisis, which met the short-term need but compromising on the long-term goal of using sustainable energy supplies.
Balancing the trilemma in the long-term is key for a future energy system where diversification, supply, demand, and balance are the key words.
Balancing the energy trilemma:
This refers to balancing supply, and also the balance between supply and demand where more flexibility on the demand side can balance out the more volatile supply side. An example of this could be found within ancillary services where companies create business cases based on supplying flexible demand to the transmission system operator (TSO) and distribution system operator (DSO). This could be a small operation or a larger one such as a data centre. Essentially, the processing is moved to where the energy is most available.
What do you want policymakers to do about it? Is there something we as individuals can do to help?
Last year, we issued a report on the energy trilemma, where we examined how to increase the security of electricity supply, and made 17 policy recommendations at a national, Nordic, EU, and international level. Focusing on elements like diversification, strategic energy planning, demand flexibility, and the impact of energy policies in the trilemma, which received positive feedback from policymakers. These recommendations are still relevant.
It is not only industries that can make a difference. I attended the UN COP28 climate change conference in 2023 and witnessed many discussions about tripling the use of renewable energy, making long-term global targets, and tracking short- and mid- term progress. There was a lot of focus on how energy efficiency needs to be doubled. This is something we can each take ownership for and actively strive to make our own energy savings for the sake of the planet and our own pockets.
Download the energy trilemma report here

Ultimately, we need to balance sustainable energy and energy security in long run. The crisis served to show us just how fragile the situation is and how important is it that energy policy addresses all aspects of the trilemma.

Ask T. H. Brüel
Global Head of Energy & Utility at Ramboll

Want to know more?

  • Ask Tonsgaard Hjordt Brüel

    Global Head of Energy & Utility

    +45 51 61 29 15

    Ask Tonsgaard Hjordt Brüel
  • Joshua Brown

    Senior Consultant

    +45 51 61 42 33

    Joshua Brown
  • Mikael Toll

    Senior Advisor Resilience

    +46 72 372 63 28

    Mikael Toll

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