UN report takes global view of 'green energy choices'

December 02, 2015

Finding the right mix of green energy technologies for generating electricity will be crucial in reducing the global impact of pollution for the next generation, according to a United Nations report co-written by a Yale professor.

Without such efforts by policy-makers worldwide, the report warns, greenhouse gas emissions may double by the year 2050. The report is being released as leaders from nearly 200 countries gather in Paris to discuss a possible agreement on limiting carbon emissions.

"Green Energy Choices: The Benefits, Risks, and Trade-Offs of Low-Carbon Technologies for Electricity Production," is a comprehensive comparison of the greenhouse gas mitigation potential for a number of alternative energy methods -- including wind, solar, geothermal, and hydro. The International Resource Panel produced the report for the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

"Renewables come out strong in terms of reducing pollution and offer us a way to keep pollution at bay from rising electricity demand," said Edgar Hertwich, director of Yale's Center for Industrial Ecology, professor of industrial sustainability, and member of the International Resource Panel. "If we continue with fossil fuel systems we will see pollution rise."

Electric power generated by renewable energy sources causes substantially less pollution than energy generated from fossil fuels, the report says. Renewable electricity produces just 5% to 6% of the greenhouse gas emissions created by coal-fired energy plants, and 8% to 10% of those generated from gas-fired plants.

The report also investigates damage from other types of pollution, such as particulate matter and toxic metals. Damage by such pollutants to the environment from renewables is 3 to 10 times lower than damage from fossil fuel based systems, the report says. As for health implications, the human health impacts from renewables are 10%-30% of those from state-of-the-art fossil fuel power.

The report points out strengths and weaknesses for all methods of producing electricity. Offshore wind farms, for example, can produce energy for a long period of time, but they come with higher installation and maintenance costs than land-based wind farms. There also are concerns about bird and bat fatalities with wind technology, although there may be radar systems that can slow wind turbines as birds approach.

The report also provides a closer look at the environmental impact of building roads and bringing in construction equipment to develop hydro power in Africa and South America; the land-use advantages of solar technology; and the costs of large-scale energy storage.

"There are many surprises in this data, even for someone who has worked in this field for a while," said Hertwich. "I was surprised to see the toxic emissions data from coal mines, the information about mine runoff, and the long-term emissions to soil and water from coal mines."

Similar emissions are caused by the iron, aluminum, and copper mines needed to produce material for renewable systems, Hertwich noted, but the massive scale of coal mining makes its emissions much more significant by comparison.

Choosing the best technology to generate power -- and picking the best sites for those projects -- will have a dramatic impact on the global environment, according to the report. The report also urged leaders in government and the private sector to act with urgency.

"The transition of energy systems takes 100 years," Hertwich said. "It's not something we can do by snapping our fingers. Renewables have been tremendously successful, and they're coming online a lot faster than people might have predicted."

Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies

Related Greenhouse Gas Emissions Articles from Brightsurf:

Using materials efficiently can substantially cut greenhouse gas emissions
Emissions from the production of materials like metals, minerals, woods and plastics more than doubled in 1995 - 2015, accounting for almost one-quarter of all greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions worldwide.

Climate change: Ending greenhouse gas emissions may not stop global warming
Even if human-induced greenhouse gas emissions can be reduced to zero, global temperatures may continue to rise for centuries afterwards, according to a simulation of the global climate between 1850 and 2500 published in Scientific Reports.

Climate-friendly Cooling Could Cut Years of Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Save US$ Trillions: UN
Energy-efficient cooling with climate-friendly refrigerants could avoid up to 460 billion tonnes of greenhouse gas equivalent being added to the atmosphere through 2060 - roughly equal to eight years of global emissions at 2018 levels.

Forests can be risky climate investments to offset greenhouse gas emissions
Given the tremendous ability of forests to absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, some governments are counting on planted forests as offsets for greenhouse gas emissions -- a sort of climate investment.

Switching from general to regional anaesthesia may cut greenhouse gas emissions
Switching from general to regional anaesthesia may help cut greenhouse emissions and ultimately help reduce global warming, indicates a real life example at one US hospital over the course of a year, and reported in the journal Regional Anesthesia & Pain Medicine.

Women generate lower travel-related greenhouse gas emissions, NZ study finds
Women use more diverse modes of travel and generate lower greenhouse gas emissions than men, despite men being more than twice as likely to travel by bike, a New Zealand study has found.

Great potential in regulating plant greenhouse gas emissions
New discoveries on the regulation of plant emissions of isoprenoids can help in fighting climate change - and can become key to the production of valuable green chemicals.

Cable bacteria can drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions from rice cultivation
The rice fields account for five percent of global emissions of the greenhouse gas methane, which is 25 times stronger than CO2.

Sugar ants' preference for pee may reduce greenhouse gas emissions
An unlikely penchant for pee is putting a common sugar ant on the map, as new research from the University of South Australia shows their taste for urine could play a role in reducing greenhouse gases.

Seeking better guidelines for inventorying greenhouse gas emissions
Governments around the world are striving to hit reduction targets using Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) guidelines to limit global warming.

Read More: Greenhouse Gas Emissions News and Greenhouse Gas Emissions Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.