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Green Energy Choices

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

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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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Concentrating solar power

Concentrating solar power (CSP) technologies are designed to produce high temperature heat for electricity generation or for cogeneration of electricity and heat. CSP systems utilize direct normal irradiation (DNI), which is the energy received directly from the sun and that which is not scattered by the atmosphere on a surface tracked perpendicular to the sun’s rays. Areas suitable for CSP development are those with strong sunshine and clear skies, usually arid or semi-arid areas. Four main technologies have been identified during the past decades for generating electricity in the 10 kW to several hundred MW range: a) parabolic trough and b) linear Fresnel technology, which produces high pressure superheated steam at temperatures less than 500°C to power a Rankine steam cycle, c) solar tower technology, which produces steam at temperatures near 560°C for a steam cycle, or air at temperatures approaching 1,000°C or synthesis gas for gas turbine operation, and d) dish/engine technology, which can directly generate electricity via Stirling engine or other small heat-engine technologies.

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