Electricity and the Quality of Life – Part 1
Date: November 10th 2020
Author: Danijel Levičar
What is quality of life and how is it connected to the supply of electricity? According to the researchers exploring it, quality of life is an assessment of a general well-being of a community, which is affected by a range of factors. The GDP is one of them, although by far not the most important. Still, the GDP is an indicator of development in a certain geographical area (region, country, continent), pointing to the size and quality of the infrastructure which is accessed by the inhabitants of this area. Better infrastructure ensures better access to goods and services which, in turn, affect the quality of life.Energy, especially electricity, comes into play in the very next step. Accessibility and affordability of clean electricity, along with a secure supply to consumers (households, the industry, healthcare and educational facilities, and others) directly affect the quality of life.
Electricity is the energy product of the future and the common denominator of the trends relating to society’s green transformation. Electric mobility, the electrification of heating and cooling, new technologies, and a sustainable economic development do not only highlight the strategic importance of electricity production and use, but also bring forth a way and a quality of life which we have come to expect as citizens, both in the developed and in the developing world. Such expectations can only be met with a reliable and zero-carbon energy source that enables the production of electricity in sufficient quantities.
A strong foundation for 50 years of national economic development
This begs the question: how is Slovenia doing in terms of meeting these expectations? Perhaps in light of today’s uncertain social and economic situation, it will seem somewhat brazen to say this, but Slovenia does not need much to prosper. History has taught us this. In the past, it took nothing more than a visionary government and a group of operationally competent managers who understood the big picture and who set up the country’s strong foundations that allowed for the quality of life which we are still enjoying in Slovenia today.
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, the Slovenian government under Stane Kavčič set up the strategic foundation for a 50-year development of the national economy and society by launching a planned development of key infrastructure: the Ljubljana Bank, the Krško nuclear power plant, the completion of the chain of power plants on the Drava river, the electrification of the railways, the highway network, the container terminal in the Port of Koper, the gas transmission system, the hotel complexes in Portorož and Bled, the Cankarjev dom cultural and congress centre, and the Ljubljana University Medical Centre.
We have been riding this infrastructure wave for 50 years – with exceptional form and convincing results. The World Energy Council’s Energy Trilemma Index 2020 ranked the Slovenian energy sector 14th among 128 countries globally. It therefore came before Spain, Luxembourg, Belgium, the Netherlands, and many other European countries.
Figure: Top 25 countries in WEC’s Energy Trilemma Index 2020.
Challenge: Drawing up a new vision of development
Today, 50 years after the Kavčič government, Slovenia is faced with a crucial challenge: to draw up a new vision of development. This is the central responsibility of today’s generation. Infrastructure 5.0 must respond to the global trends of electrification, decarbonisation, and digitalisation, while taking into account the key characteristics of infrastructure: high inertia and extreme longevity. To illustrate, let me point out that the backbone of the Slovenian railway network is 150 years old, whereas the Fala hydropower plant just celebrated 100 years of successful operation.
Drawing up a vision of development therefore calls for a thorough consideration and coordination with long-term development trends. The more we are able to recognise and give meaning to the trends, the higher the quality and achievability of our vision will be.
So that the big bad wolf does not huff and puff...
The need for a new and achievable vision of development coincides with the fact that Slovenia is currently drawing up quite a few key national strategies. We are thinking, writing, debating, and addressing the proposals for the overall development of the country, its sustainable energy sector, climate neutrality, competitive industry, and high-quality spatial development.
When it comes to strategic considerations, a systematic approach is key. It is like building a house where one also starts with a systematic consideration of the stability of its foundation. A good and well-considered foundation provides a crucial basis for a house and is an essential precondition preventing the big bad wolf from succeeding in his huffing and puffing.
This relates also to the drafting of sector-specific national strategies where it is vital to focus on exhaustively defining the development paradigm. In public discussions, it happens all too often that we act unsystematically and skip important steps. To use the house building analogy, instead of considering a solid foundation, we start off by discussing whether the house should have double- or triple-paned windows.
...and blow the house down as easily as he did in Germany and California
A week later, we witnessed a similar scenario much closer to home, in Germany. In the evening hours of 15 September, Slovenia’s GEN Group helped save the German power system by using all its available system reserves. In the spirit of European solidarity, Slovenia waived its reserves. If a Slovenian power production unit were to experience an outage at that moment, we would have nothing to replace it with.
How is it possible that California and Germany, two highly developed countries, famous for their forward-thinking energy policies, are not able to ensure reliable electricity supply?
The second part of the commentary will be published next Monday.
Danijel Levičar is the Business Director of GEN energija d.o.o.
The opinions expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Energetika.NET.
This article is available also in Slovene.
19.11.2020 - Electricity and the Quality of Life – Part 2