Health benefits, ecological threats of low-carbon electricity
Journal article, Peer reviewed
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Original versionEnvironmental Research Letters. 2017, 12 . 10.1088/1748-9326/aa6047
Stabilizing global temperature will require a shift to renewable or nuclear power from fossil power and the large-scale deployment of CO2 capture and storage (CCS) for remaining fossil fuel use. Non-climate co-benefits of low-carbon energy technologies, especially reduced mortalities from air pollution and decreased ecosystem damage, have been important arguments for policies to reduce CO2 emissions. Taking into account a wide range of environmental mechanisms and the complex interactions of the supply chains of different technologies, we conducted the first life cycle assessment of potential human health and ecological impacts of a global low-carbon electricity scenario. Our assessment indicates strong human health benefits of low-carbon electricity. For ecosystem quality, there is a significant trade-off between reduced pollution and climate impacts and potentially significant ecological impacts from land use associated with increased biopower utilization. Other renewables, nuclear power and CCS show clear ecological benefits, so that the climate mitigation scenario with a relatively low share of biopower has lower ecosystem impacts than the baseline scenario. Energy policy can maximize co-benefits by supporting other renewable and nuclear power and developing biomass supply from sources with low biodiversity impact.