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Thinking Innovation on Energy Policies - Gökberk Bilgin

Due to climate change and to decrease its reliance on fossil fuels, the European countries invested heavily in renewable energy in recent years. However, when the reality had a different setting than what was planned, the situation quickly turned into a major energy crisis. It showed that the way of handling the climate crisis is still premature, and decision-makers need to have a different way of thinking to overcome the challenges.

In modern economies, innovation has become one of the most important factors of growth and development. However, innovation is not done in one way. There are also several ways to do innovation itself, and each of those ways provides a different result. In some cases, the way of handling the innovation itself can prevent the desired impact from being realized.

In “The Sustainable Development Goals in Higher Education: A Transformative Agenda,” there was a nice discussion about how we should focus on innovation. On discussing sustainable development or tackling climate change, if you are looking to find the solutions within the same framework that created the problem itself in the first place, then the designed solution cannot be transformational. Donald Schön explains this situation as the ‘first loop learning,’ which aims to ‘learn how to do what we already do better’. This type of learning focuses on innovating the technology within the existing norms and practices. For example, in the energy sector, we know that fossil fuels are responsible for most carbon emissions and nuclear energy plants are too risky investments because if an accident occurs, it can create a major impact on the environment that will last for decades. Therefore, focusing on renewable energy sources and shifting away from carbon fuels can seem the best option despite their disadvantages. Designing the policy within this framework can lead to success, but it also means discarding many sources that can play a part in the solution. This may not be the most rational choice in a time of urgency and crisis.

The double-loop learning type of innovation, on the other hand, challenges the available information and search for new ways to eliminate the setbacks of the current system. They ask alternative questions such as if the nuclear energy plants are risky, then how can we make them safer, or is there any other way to reduce our carbon emissions caused by fossil fuel, etc. Hence, by thinking out of the box, double-loop learning enables us to develop alternative solutions and reduce our reliance on existing technologies.

From this perspective, the EU’s draft plan on labeling nuclear power plants as a sustainable energy source is an accurate attempt to deal with climate change. Recent developments in nuclear energy are highly promising, and safety issues are being solved by finding better ways to control the reactors. Furthermore, investments in reusing nuclear energy wastes are also rapidly developing. Thus, we have a promising technology that we cannot easily ignore.

It is perfectly reasonable to close the nuclear power plants that have completed their lifecycle, which is an ongoing process for Germany. However, this should not stop countries from building nuclear power plants with better technologies that have solutions to safety and disposal concerns. The focus should be on getting rid of older nuclear energy plants, not the nuclear energy itself. There is still a vast amount of improvement in the area, which also could provoke other sectors to speed up their technological improvements. Due to the nature of competition, solar and wind energy companies develop their technologies faster when there is a strong competitor that can take their market share. With this competition, we can develop new products and other alternative energy facilities that are friendly to the ecosystem and reduce our negative impact on our planet. What is keeping us from acting now about climate change is the financial burdens we fear to face. However, if we can turn this situation into an investment opportunity, more people will be happy to take part in it. Tesla showed how the norms of the automotive industry could be changed in a matter of years, and we can expect a similar result from the energy sector.

Overall, if we are serious about the risks of climate change and the urgency to act against it, in that case, we do not have the luxury to choose renewable energy sources over other options and discard any source entirely. The pace of the energy transition from coal to oil took decades, but with the current speed of our technology, we must prepare ourselves to embrace the constant changes with our energy sector and adapt ourselves to new energy sources.


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