The Age of Energy Insecurity
Comment of the Day

April 19 2023

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

The Age of Energy Insecurity

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Even with redoubled efforts to produce more clean energy at home, the United States and others will still depend on China for critical minerals and other clean energy components and technologies for years to come, creating vulnerabilities to Chinese-induced shocks. For instance, in recent months, China has suggested that it may restrict the export of solar energy technologies, materials, and know-how as a response to restrictions that Washington imposed last year on the export of high-end semiconductors and machinery to China. If Beijing were to follow through on this threat or curtail the export of critical minerals or advanced batteries to major economies (just as it cut off rare earth supplies to Japan in the early 2010s), large segments of the clean energy economy could suffer setbacks.

Traditional energy heavyweights are also recalibrating their positions in response to the changing geopolitical landscape in ways that increase energy security risks. Saudi Arabia, for instance, now sees its global stance differently than it did in the decades that followed the famous “oil for security” bargain struck by U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt and Saudi King Abdulaziz ibn Saud on Valentine’s Day in 1945. Riyadh is now far less concerned with accommodating Washington’s requests, overt or implied, to supply oil markets in ways consistent with U.S. interests. In the face of a perceived or real decrease in U.S. strategic commitment to the Middle East, Riyadh has concluded it must tend to other relationships—especially its links to China, the single largest customer for its oil. The kingdom’s acceptance of China as a guarantor of the recent Iranian-Saudi rapprochement bolsters Beijing’s role in the region and its global status. Relations with Moscow have also become particularly important to Saudi Arabia. Regardless of the invasion of Ukraine, the Saudi government believes that Russia remains an essential economic partner and collaborator in managing oil-market volatility. It will therefore be extremely reluctant to take positions that pit the Saudi leadership against Putin.

Eoin Treacy's view

A war is underway in the energy markets. Suppliers are intent on sustaining high prices and eco-warriors fervently hope high prices will wean the world from its addiction. Consumers are caught in the middle and have little in the way of choice as they face increasing regulatory and infrastructure costs.  

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