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Transformation to wind and solar achievable with lower full life cycle GHG emissions compared to other energy technologies

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December 8, 2017 Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK)  read full ScienceDaily article here
Different low carbon technologies from wind or solar energy to fossil carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) differ greatly when it comes to indirect GHG emissions in their life cycle. The new study finds that wind and solar energy belong to the more favorable when it comes to life-cycle emissions and scaling up these technologies would induce only modest indirect GHG emissions — and hence not impede the transformation towards a climate-friendly power system….

“Both fossil and non-fossil power technologies still come with a certain amount of greenhouse gas emissions within their life cycle — on the one hand because it needs energy to construct and operate them, on the other hand because of methane emissions, e.g. from coal and gas production,” explains lead author Michaja Pehl. “However, we found there are substantial differences across technologies regarding their greenhouse gas balance. Electricity production from biomass, coal, gas and hydropower for instance induces much higher indirect greenhouse gas emissions than nuclear electricity, or wind and solar-based power supply.”….

….”When it comes to life cycle greenhouse gas emissions, wind and solar energy provide a much better greenhouse gas balance than fossil-based low carbon technologies, because they do not require additional energy for the production and transport of fuels, and the technologies themselves can be produced to a large extend with decarbonized electricity,” states Edgar Hertwich, an industrial ecologist from Yale University who co-authored the study. Due to technological innovation, less and less energy will be needed to produce wind turbines and solar photovoltaic systems….

Michaja Pehl, Anders Arvesen, Florian Humpenöder, Alexander Popp, Edgar G. Hertwich, Gunnar Luderer. Understanding future emissions from low-carbon power systems by integration of life-cycle assessment and integrated energy modelling. Nature Energy, 2017; 2 (12): 939 DOI: 10.1038/s41560-017-0032-9

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