The normative requirement for a digital energy system is

In the technocratic and business-driven debate about the digitization of the energy system, ethical aspects hardly occur. It's about "convenience" and "joy of use" and how digitization contributes to the cost-effectiveness of companies. The goals of the energy transition, therefore

life-friendly, ecologically-oriented energy supply,

broad social participation and participation,

decentralized energy supply,

and how they can be achieved through digitization, get out of sight. This also means that the dark side of digital technologies, such as a new quantity and quality of raw material extractivism, remain underexposed. The only ethical aspect that is considered is privacy. Precisely because it is not possible without digitization, it is high time to ethically ground the whole thing.

1. Greening and Limiting: Efficiency, consistency and sufficiency are the triad of the digital energy transition.

In a world with limited resources, this is de facto more than a normative guardrail, but a physical necessity. An energy system is ecologically sustainable if it does not overuse natural resources such as soil, water and the atmosphere. [1]

The key technologies of the energy transition, sun, wind and batteries, contain rare earths and high-tech metals. The largest deposits of these raw materials are typically not in industrialized countries, but in Latin America (copper, iron ores, silver, lithium, manganese, etc.), in African countries (platinum, bauxite, manganese, etc.) and in Asian countries (rare earths mainly in China). The hardware of digitalization consisting of smart phones, servers, hard disks, screens, etc. is resource intensive. So-called (digital) future technology requires, among other things, raw materials such as lithium, rhenium, terbium germanium, cobalt, scandium or tantalum. The demand for raw materials is skyrocketing worldwide. The international race for these raw materials has long since begun, which among other things leads to the mining of manganese nodules at 4000 meters sea depth. A big threat to this fragile ecosystem.

Keep technological level

Is metal recycling a solution here? Yes and no! Of course, it is more environmentally friendly to recycle metals than to recycle or eliminate them. But: First, recycling is only third of the waste hierarchy [2] (avoidance and repair are better). Second, the recycling potential of many future technologies affecting the energy system is limited (e.g., smart metering, mobile device fuel cells). Other materials and technologies (such as fiber optic cable, white LED, RFID, carbon touch screen) are not recyclable. [3] Urban mining, cradle-2 cradle and thrifty "intra-technology choices" are also mentioned as ways of keeping the social and environmental footprint of the energy transition infrastructure small. In the future, technological innovation is likely to provide even more opportunities to make the hardware of the digital energy transition more environmentally friendly. But it would be fatal to rely on technological solutions (techno fixes) at some point for the socio-ecological resource or waste problem.

In addition, it should be considered how the (digital) energy transition can be made sufficient. The reduction and avoidance of digital and material ballast must be swiftly provided with regulatory instruments and market incentives.

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