We use cookies to give you a better experience. Carry on browsing if you're happy with this, or read our cookies policy for more information.

Skip main navigation

Historical development of ‘energy landscapes’

Second video lecture by dr. Christian Zuidema on the historical development of energy landscapes.
And we go to the first chapter of the module, which has to do with the history of the energy landscape. Then, of course, a question you might have is, what is actually an energy landscape? Well, an energy landscape is fairly simple. An energy system that is embedded within its landscape as an integrated part of the landscape. And the landscape, in this case, is both the physical landscape and the socio-economic landscape. The physical landscape is basically all the structures, artefacts and the geography that is out there– the lakes, the forests, but also the cities, the infrastructure, the big highways. But also the socio-economic landscape, which means the different land uses, what we do there, but also the people.
And an economic landscape means big institutions, companies. We actually pay our energy bill to a certain company. That is also, in a way, a landscape. And energy systems of course, are an integrated part of both of them. But the way they have been integrated, also, in the past, that is kind of a little bit different. If we start with something that we can’t even really call an energy landscape yet, that is basically what we call Generation Zero. And Generation Zero was a time when basically we simply used our muscles, we used animal power, we maybe used a little bit of wood, but we were, as human species, living with and off the land.
Our impact on the landscape was so limited that basically you couldn’t talk about an energy landscape. What essentially simply happened is we dealt with what was out there. Generation One, that’s the moment when it slowly started to change. Generation One was a time when we started to grow. We started to do agriculture. Cities started to emerge, and cities started to grow. That was a time when we really started to need more energy. First of all, it related to wood. Even in the Roman times, you could see in Europe that deforestation was already a very big issue. Later on, we started to use turf in many places all around the world. But also, we started to use coal.
And this was, of course, very visible when extracted. Deforestation, places where the turf was actually being harvested, so we could really see the landscape change because of our energy needs. But what was also important was we basically used the energy there where we needed it. There where the coal was, that was the place where the factories came. For example, Manchester, Birmingham, but also the German rural areas, or Pittsburgh in the United States. So essentially, the connection between what we did and where the energy was very tensed.
Also, in the Netherlands, the place where we come from here, where, you could, for example, see that windmills were actually placed there where we need it, these windmills, as a pump to get the water out of low lying areas. So essentially Generation One is a time when space really mattered with regards to the energy system. And then we go to Generation Two. And Generation Two is basically the generation that we’re also being confronted with today. This is the generation that is largely based on fossil fuels.
And the importance about this generation is that we actually got the means not just to have a lot of fossil fuel that was available in a very short amount of time, but also that it became very easy to transport it. We could transport it by big oil tankers or gas pipelines, but also through the electricity grid. And this is basically something that we only have available for a little over 100 years. And this is also the time when space started to matter less and less. Because essentially, it didn’t really matter anymore where you were. Because there was always an electricity grid somewhere around. There was always a gas station to fuel up your car.
And there was always somewhere an energy plant that could be provided with cheap accessible fossil fuels from somewhere around the world. In this system, space didn’t really matter anymore. And we’ve gotten used to it. We’ve gotten used to easily available amounts of fossil fuels, but also that it is available basically anywhere where we are, except, of course, for some very remote places on the earth. But Generation Two, where space really is implicit, is probably not going to last very long. Because if we shift to Generation Three, then we actually shift to a very different kind of energy landscape.
It looks a little bit more like Generation One, because we will actually start to see things that are visible, that are above the ground, not underground, such as the pipelines or the big oil and gas fields. No, above the ground, where we need large amounts of space to actually generate the amounts of energy that we nowadays need as a world society. And this visibility, this being above the ground, is going to have some important consequences. Consequences that not just include the fact that we see them and that we might actually hear them. There are also going to be consequences with relating to actually maybe the buffering that is needed, because the wind doesn’t always blow. The sun doesn’t always shine.
Also maybe with regards to changing contracts. Because well, of course, it is not just simply a big energy plant that is delivering something from the top down to your home. Now, it might just be that your home is one of the places where the energy is being generated. It will change the entire landscape. It will change the infrastructure of the energy system. It will change the legal structures of the energy system. It will change the economics, the contracts. And these changes definitely also take place in space. Because a decentralised energy system, one that is highly visible and that will need a lot of space, is one that will have so many spatial consequences that we need to consider these.
In this video, Christian introduces the idea of an ‘energy landscape’. Also he discusses the historically changing impact of energy production, distribution and use on the landscape.
This article is from the free online

Solving the Energy Puzzle: A Multidisciplinary Approach to Energy Transition

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Our purpose is to transform access to education.

We offer a diverse selection of courses from leading universities and cultural institutions from around the world. These are delivered one step at a time, and are accessible on mobile, tablet and desktop, so you can fit learning around your life.

We believe learning should be an enjoyable, social experience, so our courses offer the opportunity to discuss what you’re learning with others as you go, helping you make fresh discoveries and form new ideas.
You can unlock new opportunities with unlimited access to hundreds of online short courses for a year by subscribing to our Unlimited package. Build your knowledge with top universities and organisations.

Learn more about how FutureLearn is transforming access to education