In a week where controversy and argument continue to be raised regarding the UK’s Hinkley Point nuclear power stations, and the world continues to debate the damaging effects of “fracking” for gas deposits, we can see how important concerns of energy provision are in the real world. The forms and methods of energy generation in your fictional world can also play a large part in how that society works, and access to energy can make big difference to the politics of your fictional nation.
While you may consider the idea of energy generation to be only worth thinking about in science fiction stories, else fantasy stories set against a backdrop of an industrialised society, this is not the case. How do your desert-dwelling nomads light cooking fires, for example, without a ready source of wood to burn?
In any case, the amount and type of energy your society chooses to use can tell you a lot about what they value; do they choose to use cleaner forms of energy, and use it as efficiently as possible? Do they use dangerous or highly polluting forms of energy and use it inefficiently, for trivial or unnecessary reasons? Just a brief mention of these things can give the reader a lot of information about the means and philosophies by which your society operates.
Example: The enlightened Skyhold of the Olerian Mountains believe in the sanctity of the Sky Spirits. The energy for grinding their grain comes from the wind; a gift of the Sky Spirits. Their heating comes almost entirely from friction, believing that to pump smoke into the air is to dishonour and anger the spirits. Their neighbours, however, the Kingdom of Passaira, insist on harnessing the Earth Fires. They burn the Black Rocks, and the Black Oils, they burn the lifegiving trees and turn the water into cloud to run their machines, and there have been many deep disagreements.
Here we can see two very different societies; one a very passive receiver of energy, which most likely uses as little energy as possible due to the difficulty of extracting it. Due to their beliefs about what kinds of energy can and cannot be used, this is likely to be rigidly enforced, and they might not even allow candles or open flames in anything other than special circumstances.
Knock-on effects here are fairly obvious; they are likely to have little access to light other than natural light, and are therefore likely to live their lives according to when the sun shines; rising and sleeping early. Their homes will be well-insulated, and designed to let as much light in as possible while letting out a minimum of heat.
Their rivals in Passaira, however, are seemingly uninterested in pollution. They are likely to be able to wake for different and longer hours due to the prevalence of fire in their society, and are likely to develop technology more quickly. They might view the Skyhold as backwards, religious cultists, or standing in the way of progress.
However, there may come a time where the Passairans run out of coal and oil, else have chopped down all their trees. The availability, as well as the type of energy used is also a consideration.
Example: The Qarn have built their empire on the remnants of the ancient Rakkii technology. When their scientists unearthed a Rakkii power crystal in the swamplands of their native world, it was an astounding discovery. While they could not replicate the technology, the lessons they did learn allowed them to develop an interstellar drive, powered by the Rakkii crystal. The worlds they conquered, and the many other Rakkii crystals they discovered along the way, allowed them to expand their empire, and to win numerous victories against the Solar Federation, whose native hydrogen power coils are much less efficient.
So we see here a society whose energy source is based on a very scarce resource. While the Qarn have discovered enough Rakkii energy crystals to create a large military force, they cannot replicate the technology. The result? The size of their fleet is limited by the number of Rakkii power crystals they can find. Each ship that is destroyed or lost is irreplaceable.
Their rivals of the Solar Federation have no similar restriction. They invented their own power source, and while it is less efficient, they can build as many hydrogen power coils as they have the resources for. What might happen to shift the balance of power here if the Qarn are unable to discover any more Rakkii crystals, while the Solar Federation’s military capability expands by the day? What might happen if some unknown fault or feature causes the Rakkii power crystals to become depleted?
The energy requirements of a civilisation, whether advanced or relatively primitive, can be an important part of their infrastructure and their relative strength compared to any rivals. What does your civilisations power requirements, use, and source say about its culture?