A decarbonised electricity supply offers most benefits

19 November 2019

19 November

Reducing the impact of electricity generation on global warming is a challenge that has been taken up by an international team of researchers.

Tiffany Hionas

The team led by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) has found a way to measure the benefits and downsides of three paths to decarbonisation. Using a first-time combination of multiple modelling systems, the results showed that using wind and solar energy would bring environmental and health co-benefits. Transitioning to renewables-based electricity production would reduce air pollution from fossil fuels, thereby reducing negative health effects by up to 80%.

For their study, the team compared three scenarios for a decarbonised electricity supply by 2050; one scenario focused on solar and wind energy, one relied on carbon capture and storage with fossil and biomass resources, and a last scenario involved the use of various technologies. It was evident that land-use was a huge necessity for each scenario, with bioenergy relying on the most amount of land-use to generate electricity. Alexander Popp, head of the land use management group at the PIK, states, ‘Land is a finite resource on our planet. Given the growing world population with a hunger for both electricity and for food, pressures on the land and food systems will increase, too. Our analysis helps to get the magnitudes right when speaking of the at times much-hailed technology of bioenergy.’

Using Integrated Assessment Modelling to calculate the different paths to decarbonising the power sector, it became clear that land and mineral resources will need to increase for renewable energy production to work on a grand scale.

As Gunnar Luderer, lead author and deputy chair of PIK's research domain on transformation pathways, concludes, ‘Smart choices are key to limiting the impact of these new demands on other societal objectives, such as nature conservancy, food security, or even geopolitics.’

DOI: 10.1038/s41467-019-13067-8

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