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European Energy Policy: A Policy-Maker's Perspective

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Energy is a complex issue which can often appear deceptively simple. Because energy is so important and so integrated within our daily lives, many imagine that deeply complex questions are more straightforward than is actually the case. This misconception is a significant problem because of the strategic importance of energy policy. Personally, I feel the crucial importance of energy policy is such that ideology and fixed political orthodoxies will prove more of a hindrance than a help in finding solutions to the energy challenges that lie ahead.

Let us start with the basics, in order to lay some clear foundations for the debate. Elementary physics has taught us that the notion of energy is exactly the same as the notion of work. Work is the vectorial product of the exertion of a force over a distance. Moving the force requires work – in other words, energy. This is a fundamental principle of physics. If we want to reduce energy consumption, we have to work less. To work less means to expend less energy, in other words not to make a force, or not to move. Before science had discovered this immutable principle known to us as Newton's First Law, engineers in the Middle Ages worked tirelessly (and in utter futility) to try and find a perfect model where work did not require the expenditure of energy. It was a concept of breath-taking simple-mindedness – that humans could invent a way to avoid work, effort and sweat in life. It was modern Physics, in the form of the insights of the great Galileo Galilei and the no less imposing Sir Isaac Newton that finally put paid to the dream that work could somehow be done without energy being expended. It is at this point that the quest for perpetual motion was finally set aside. Today, it is a source of amazement to those of us with a basic training in science to see the reemergence of the perpetual-motion dreamers, of those who imagine that work can be done without energy and that this will liberate us from the hard policy choices that lie ahead in the energy generation and energy expenditure field.

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: January 1, 2011

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