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PLOS Climate Section Editor Martin Patel shares his vision for the journal’s Energy section

Want to learn more about the topics our editors see as important for their journal sections? Read on for PLOS Climate Section Editor Martin Patel’s thoughts on the key themes and questions for the journal’s Energy section.

This blog provides indications of the areas and research questions which PLOS Climate aims to address related to the energy domain, without claiming comprehensiveness. Topics of relevance for PLOS Climate deal with, but are not limited to, physical, health-related, ecological, economic, social, behavioural as well as governance-related aspects of the energy system, with a focus on the energy transition.

Climate resilience of the energy sector concerns in the first instance physical, environmental and hydrological aspects of the energy system, for example the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events and their impact on energy supply. Hurricanes, wildfires and icing may cause more and more damage to the energy distribution system (e.g. high-voltage power lines) and may do major harm to large-scale renewable energy systems (e.g. photovoltaic installations). What role will extreme weather events play in future and what level of outages and costs should be expected? What ramifications will droughts and increasingly unstable water supplies have for hydropower plants, for cooling of thermal power plants and industrial processes, for cargo ships on rivers as well as for the hydrogen economy, if placed in sunny regions subject to climate change?

The Energy-Health-Climate nexus deals, inter alia, with the implications of changing urban climate and prolonged heat waves resulting in increased need for air conditioning, raising questions about where this will occur, when and to what extent. Electrification of transport and heating is expected to significantly improve urban air quality, but is there any evidence for this based on real-world experience and are the health benefits meaningful and sufficiently large to serve as driver? What can the energy transition bring to the poorest and most vulnerable parts of the population living in areas that will gradually become uninhabitable?

There are also multiple linkages between Energy, Ecology and Climate which need to be studied: How serious are the trade-offs when using pristine spaces for producing renewable energy (e.g. large off-shore wind parks potentially impacting marine life with their noise or photovoltaics in the Alps). Is the pressure on land use exerted by the energy transition justified from a climate perspective, or are there feedback loops that must be considered? What are the side effects of the soaring need for metals and rare earths in terms of carbon footprint and other environmental impacts (e.g. toxic emissions)?

Energy-related aspects of climate economics may be addressed by analysing the social costs and the macroeconomic costs of the energy transition when implemented in different ways, in comparison to business-as-usual. More and more attention will need to be paid to social impacts, e.g. by simultaneously addressing energy justice and climate justice. Also the role of “green growth” needs to be critically studied, i.e. what exactly is green growth and how much it can the globe sustain?

Most of the aspects referred to above are also relevant for Energy Policy & Governance. More specifically, some of the questions to be addressed are: What are the biggest levers for reducing greenhouse gas impacts within the energy system, thereby considering costs of alternative options, the speed of implementation as well as reasons for acceptance and rejection and, more generally, fully accounting for what has worked and what not? Is there scientific evidence of experience made at local, national or international level which can help researchers and practitioners make the best possible choices in order to put the energy transition into practice? For example, which energy sources should be prioritized in a given context in order to fully exploit the decarbonization potential of a neighbourhood, site, city or region?

Some of the more fundamental questions falling into the scope of PLOS Climate are how the energy and climate transition should account for the more and more evident limits to economic and physical growth, what new narratives and scenarios can be developed, and how this relates back to changes at the level of the country, city, neighbourhood and individual lifestyles.

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