Life cycle assessments (LCA) of large-scale implementation of low-carbon technologies such as renewable sources of electricity can reduce pollutions from GHG emissions of fossil fuel sources, thus providing environmental benefits and mitigate climate change.
Emissions from fossil-fuel energy sources can cause particulate matter exposure, freshwater eco-toxicity, freshwater eutrophication, and climate change.
Generally, setting up the infrastructure of renewable technology costs much higher than fossil-based power systems. Renewable technology has higher material requirements. For example, 11-40 times more copper is need for photovoltaic systems and 6-14 times more iron for wind power plants is needed.
They assessed the trade-offs between increased up-front emissions due to the higher material requirements of low-carbon technologies and the reduced operational emissions from long-term use. The study presents the first of its kind, global and integrated life-cycle assessment (LCA) of long-term, wide-scale implementation of electricity generation from renewable sources.
Some life-cycle assessments of a single technology show that low-carbon power plants require more materials than fossil-fuel plants in generating per unit of power, which can lead to higher environmental impacts.
But what about if there is a widespread shift in low-carbon technology on a global scale? Little is known about the environmental impacts when this is the case.
Would materials and construction requirements for the infrastructure of low-carbon technology be large relative to current production capacities? Would a shift to renewable energy source increase or decrease other types of pollution?
The study analysed the environmental impacts and resource requirement of the wide-scale global deployment of different low-carbon electricity generation technologies based on a prominent climate-change mitigation scenario, and comparing with the baseline scenario.
To do this, the researchers have developed an integrated hybrid LCA model that considers the use of energy technologies in a global production system.
The study’s analysis shows that large-scale implementation of renewable energy sources has the potential to reduce pollution and environmental impacts of electricity production. Pollution coming from the high-material requirements of low-carbon technologies is small compared with the direct emissions of fuel-fired powered plants.
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