The past two centuries have witnessed rapid economic and population growth, powered by ever larger supplies of fossil fuels: first coal, and then oil and natural gas, supplemented by nuclear and hydroelectric power. Great energy transitions accompanied the discovery and use of new, abundant and cheap supplies of fuel that added to, and partially replaced, sources that came before. Today, it is widely recognised that we are on the brink of a new great energy transition – heralded, for instance, by our increasing reliance on low-carbon energy sources such as solar, wind and nuclear power.

Two distinct forces, whose relative roles and import remain controversial, are identified as driving the low-carbon transition. The first are policy measures born out of climate change and pollution concerns. The second is the mounting scarcity of easily-accessed and low-cost fossil fuels (Fig. 1), compounded by growing Chinese and Indian demand for energy. Europe, with high dependency on imported fuel from areas like Russia, Africa and the Middle East, occupies a particularly vulnerable position in this unfolding energy landscape (Fig. 2).

Figure 2

Figure 1: Oil price is back at the level of the 1970s oil shocks in real terms. Global conventional oil production is at plateau.

Figure 1
Figure 2: EU imports of fossil fuel rose 50% from 1981 to 2007, then fell due to the recession. Imports are expected to continue increasing.

Opportunities and challenges accompany the present transition. What sets our time apart, however, is that we are witness to a historical shift away from better quality and lower cost energy stores; towards renewable energy flows that are not always available on demand, and often come at a higher price for the consumer. It is to be expected, then, that a period of uneasy energy adjustment lies ahead. Can markets still be relied upon to allocate the best solutions on our behalf under this new regime? Or are recent introductions of complex energy levies and subsidies evidence that current systems are poorly equipped to manage the low-carbon energy transition?

The greatest energy risk facing society today may lie in having insufficient secure supplies of affordable energy to power economic growth. This first Global Energy Systems Conference will engage stakeholders in informed presentations and discussions on the transitioning global energy system, provided by leading academic, industry and government experts.

The conference focus is on providing the key decision information required by companies, organisations and investors under pressure from the changing energy situation. This information will inform risk assessments and strategic decision‐making in light of current high energy prices and energy system fragilities. In addition, presentation of the latest critical scientific and business developments in the energy sector will aid public authorities in their goal of better energy governance.

To integrate the key issues relevant to companies, organisations and public authorities the conference will cover five main energy‐related themes in single plenary session format, and also have poster sessions covering the latest research on these topics.

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