A future where electricity comes mostly from low-carbon sources is not only feasible in terms of material demand, but will significantly reduce air pollution, a study published in the 6 October Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences says.
An international team led by Edgar Hertwich and Thomas Gibon from NTNU’s Industrial Ecology Programme have conducted the first-ever global comprehensive life cycle assessment of the long-term, wide-scale implementation of electricity generation from renewable resources.
“This is the first study that has assembled and scaled up the assessment of individual technologies to the whole world and assessed technology implementation to 2050, taking the environmental impacts of production into account,” Hertwich said.
Environmental costs and benefits
The researchers did the study because so little is known about the environmental costs of the widespread global shift to renewable energy technologies such as wind and solar power, and what the effect of this shift might have on material requirements.
“Would the shift to low-carbon energy systems increase or decrease other types of pollution?” the researchers asked.
Previous efforts to answer this question have typically looked at single issues, such as selected pollutants, or the effects on land use or need for raw materials, such as metals. Previous studies have also neglected to look at the interactions between different technologies, the researchers said.
Integrated hybrid life cycle assessment
To address these shortfalls, Hertwich and his colleagues developed an integrated hybrid life cycle assessment model.
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