Energy demand and development: Updating Turkey’s energy paradigm

Energy demand and development: Updating Turkey’s energy paradigm

Jörn Richert
A recent article on Turkey’s energy situation argues that “today, the development levels of countries are being measured in association with their energy consumption.” Indeed, many energy experts and policy makers equate Turkey’s increasing energy consumption with growing economic importance; however, while there are connections between energy usage and economic growth, statements like the one above are problematic. They are guided by an outdated energy paradigm that ignores one of the most important aspects of a smart energy policy: energy efficiency.

Let’s take a step back and have a look at the bigger picture. With the emergence of the oil era, energy consumption became a part of everyday modern culture. Particularly after World War II, people began to enjoy access to new energy-based services such as individual transportation by cars and cooling from refrigerators at home. Leaving behind the hardship of the most devastating war in human history, hopes for progress and economic growth were increasingly associated with the use of secure and cheap energy.

Fast-forward to October 1973, when major oil producers unilaterally raised oil prices and Arab oil states instituted an oil embargo against several Western states. The world’s first oil crisis ensued. Energy consumers were shocked. Suddenly it occurred to them that excessive energy consumption was not a good thing. The issue of energy savings and efficiency began to feature prominently in public and political debates.

Since those moments of uncertainty and political turmoil in late 1973, a consensus has emerged in many regions of the world that energy efficiency is an integral component of any smart energy strategy. The European Union, for example, has recently announced that it will increase energy efficiency 27 percent by 2030. The United States has enacted ambitious energy efficiency measures, particularly in the transport sector. And also in China, the political prominence of energy efficiency is rising.

As these cases show, efficiency has become the primary paradigm of energy consumption. Underlying this paradigm is the insight that growing energy demand does not signal progress – it signals waste. It follows that the development of a country cannot be measured by its energy consumption alone. The oversimplifying equation of energy usage and development, which is dear to so many experts and policy makers in Turkey, is outdated. It is an idea from days long past. A country’s level of development must instead be measured by how smartly the country uses its energy supply.

Turkey’s fossil fuel import bill is estimated to amount to $61 billion in 2014 alone. Putting a greater emphasis on energy efficiency can substantially reduce this bill, with saving potential estimated at more than $16 billion annually. It can also make the country more secure by reducing its import dependence. Turkey should thus reconsider its energy paradigm with regard to energy consumption and opt for stronger energy efficiency policies. Every unit of energy that is saved at home makes the country economically stronger and more secure.

Jörn Richert is the Mercator-IPC fellow at the Istanbul Policy Center at Sabancı University.