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Green Energy Choices

The Benefits, Risks and Trade-Offs of Low-Carbon Technologies for Electricity Production

image of Green Energy Choices

Rising energy demand and efforts to combat climate change require a significant increase in low-carbon electricity generation. Yet, concern has been raised that rapid investment in some novel technologies could cause a new set of environmental problems. The report of the International Resource Panel (IRP) Green Energy Choices: The Benefits, Risks and Trade-Offs of Low-Carbon Technologies for Electricity Production aims to support policy-makers in making informed decision about energy technologies, infrastructures and optimal mix. The findings of the report show that, compared to coal, electricity generated by hydro, wind, solar and geothermal power can bring substantial reductions in greenhouse gases emissions (by more than 90%), and also of pollutants harmful to human health and ecosystems (by 60-90%). The capture and storage of CO2 from fossil fuel power plants will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 70%, but increase the pollution damaging human health and ecosystems by 5-80%. The key to sound energy decisions lies in selecting the right mix of technologies according to local or regional circumstances and putting in place safeguard procedures to mitigate and monitor potential impacts. This demands careful assessment of various impacts of different alternatives, so as to avoid the unintended negative consequences, and to achieve the most desirable mix of environmental, social and economic benefits.

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Fossil fuels and carbon dioxide capture and storage

The aim of this chapter is threefold. First, it aims to provide a systematic overview of the fossil fuels spectrum and the technologies used for fossil fuel-based power production, including their current status and key constraints. Secondly, this chapter aims to provide a review of the potential environmental impacts and trade-offs reported in literature. Energy is central to addressing the major challenges of the twenty first century: climate change, poverty, economic and social development. Historically, most of the world’s energy requirements have been supplied by fossil fuels (about 81 per cent of the world’s primary fuel mix in 2010) and it is expected that they will continue to play a major role in the coming decades. For instance, in its 2013 World Energy Outlook, the International Energy Agency (IEA) indicates that fossil fuels (oil, coal and natural gas) will remain the dominant sources of energy until 2035 with shares of about 80 per cent in the Current Policies Scenario and 64 per cent in the 450 ppm scenario (IEA, 2013).

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