Environmental implications of large-scale adoption of wind power: a scenario-based life cycle assessment
Journal article, Peer reviewed
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Original versionEnvironmental Research Letters. 2011, 6 (4), . 10.1088/1748-9326/6/4/045102
We investigate the potential environmental impacts of a large-scale adoption of wind power to meet up to 22% of the world's growing electricity demand. The analysis builds on life cycle assessments of generic onshore and offshore wind farms, meant to represent average conditions for global deployment of wind power. We scale unit-based findings to estimate aggregated emissions of building, operating and decommissioning wind farms toward 2050, taking into account changes in the electricity mix in manufacturing. The energy scenarios investigated are the International Energy Agency's BLUE scenarios. We estimate 1.7–2.6 Gt CO2-eq climate change, 2.1–3.2 Mt N-eq marine eutrophication, 9.2–14 Mt NMVOC photochemical oxidant formation, and 9.5–15 Mt SO2-eq terrestrial acidification impact category indicators due to global wind power in 2007–50. Assuming lifetimes 5 yr longer than reference, the total climate change indicator values are reduced by 8%. In the BLUE Map scenario, construction of new capacity contributes 64%, and repowering of existing capacity 38%, to total cumulative greenhouse gas emissions. The total emissions of wind electricity range between 4% and 14% of the direct emissions of the replaced fossil-fueled power plants. For all impact categories, the indirect emissions of displaced fossil power are larger than the total emissions caused by wind power.