Global shift to renewable power is feasible and would provide cleaner air and water, reveals the first-ever global life cycle assessment of renewable energy future.
A future where electricity comes mostly from low-carbon sources would not only be feasible in terms of material demand, but will significantly reduce air pollution.
An international team led by Edgar Hertwich and Thomas Gibon from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology conducted the first-ever global comprehensive life cycle assessment of the long-term, wide-scale implementation of electricity generation from renewable resources.
An important aspect of the model was that it allowed the integration of electricity produced by these prospective technologies back into the economic model.
The researchers looked at concentrating solar power, photovoltaics, wind power, hydropower, and gas- and coal-fired power plants with carbon capture and storage (CCS). They also assumed that the efficiency of the production of important raw materials, such as aluminum, copper, nickel, iron and steel, for example, would improve over time.
The researchers assessed Baseline scenario, in which global electricity production has been assumed to increase by 134 percent between 2007 and 2050, and where fossil fuels maintain their high share in the electricity generation mix, accounting for two-thirds of the total. Under this scenario, coal-based generation is 149 percent higher in 2050 than in 2007, accounting for 44 percent of all power generation.
They also assessed BLUE map scenario, which assumes that electricity demand in 2050 is 13 percent lower than in the Baseline scenario because of increased energy efficiency, and that the power sector emits less pollutants from fossil fuels by reducing their use and adopting carbon capture and storage technologies, along with an increase in the use of renewable energies.
Gibon said energy production-related climate change mitigation targets are achievable, given a slight increase in the demand for iron or cement, as two examples, and will reduce the current emission rates of air pollutants.
The study is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.