Sustainability and Energy Services: A Framework for Discussion

  • John H. PerkinsEmail author
Conference paper
Part of the Springer Proceedings in Energy book series (SPE)


Current energy services provide incalculable benefits, but they are not sustainable. Several factors cause unsustainability, but climate change is the most important and immediate risk. Moving to new energy systems requires focus on investment: the steady stream of monetary and social capital to build, maintain, operate, regulate, and decommission energy infrastructure. Investments develop primary energy sources and make them available to societies as energy services. Almost without exception, an investment must focus on a fuel–technology pair. An investment to develop natural gas, for example, cannot yield PV electricity, nor can an investment in wind turbines make coal into a useful source. Only nine primary energy sources are usable for energy services, and widespread assumptions hold that investments in renewable energy are more sustainable than investments in the currently dominant nonrenewable sources. Moving to higher dependence on renewable energy, however, requires the development of a finer analysis of the sustainability of the nine different energy sources. This paper proposes an energy–sustainability matrix, composed of five criteria currently in use, supplemented by four new criteria drawn from the concept of sustainability. Qualitative, ordinal standards then enable ranking of each of the nine primary energy sources, plus energy efficiency, with the nine criteria for investments. A complete analysis indicates the comparative strengths and weaknesses of each energy source. This matrix usefully frames a sociopolitical discussion for public policy and investment decisions.



I am indebted to Dr. Tom Womeldorff for his advice on improving the specificity of the word “sustainability.” I am grateful to four anonymous reviewers who provided comments that improved the narrative. Thanks also go to the organizers of the 2018 Energy and Sustainability Conference for including this paper in the program.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.The Evergreen State CollegeKensingtonUSA

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