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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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Wind power

Electric power generation by wind turbines is the second largest contributor, next to hydro power, to world renewable electricity generation (IEA, 2013). Furthermore, wind power is commonly regarded as a key technology in addressing some of the greatest environmental and resource concerns of today, namely anthropogenic climate change and other negative consequences from air pollution, and energy security. Among other factors, a strong growth in today’s markets and prospects of exploiting vast and as yet untapped resources, contribute to the anticipation that wind power will play a significant role in shifting energy markets away from fossil-based power generation towards renewables in coming decades (GWEC, 2011; Wiser et al., 2011b). Wind power likewise features prominently in the current body of global climate change mitigation scenarios produced by energy-economy models (IEA, 2010a, 2013; Krey and Clarke, 2011).

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