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[en] The thermodynamic efficiency and the environmental sustainability of selected processes that deliver gaseous energy carriers (natural gas, syngas from coal gasification, and hydrogen from steam reforming of natural gas and alkaline electrolysis) is explored by means of a multi-criteria, multi-scale approach based on four methods: material flow accounting, energy analysis, exergy analysis, and energy synthesis. The average energy and exergy conversion efficiencies of syngas (76% and 75%, respectively) are found to be higher than those for hydrogen (64% and 55%). However, coal-to-syngas conversion generates a significant amount of solid waste, which should be dealt with carefully. In addition, the material intensity is much higher for syngas (e.g. abiotic MI=768 g/g) than for natural gas and hydrogen (21 and 39 g/g, respectively), indicating a higher load on the environment. On the other hand, the energy intensity (transformity) for syngas (5.25x104 seJ/J) is shown to be lower than for hydrogen (9.66x104 seJ/J), indicating a lower demand for global environmental support. Therefore, material intensities and transformities offer two complementary pieces of information: transformities account for the 'memory' of the environmental resources that were used up in the past for the production of the inputs, whereas MIs are strictly calculated within the time frame of the life cycle of the investigated process. The higher transformity values calculated for pure hydrogen suggest careful and appropriate use of such an energy vector
[en] Cadmium telluride photovoltaic (CdTe PV) technology is growing rapidly, and already represents the largest contributor to non-silicon based photovoltaics worldwide. We assessed the extent to which CdTe PV will play a notable role in the Cd use and emission flows in the future, and whether it will be environmentally beneficial or detrimental. Our results show that while CdTe PV may account for a large percentage of future global Cd demand, its role in terms of Cd sequestration may be beneficial. We calculated that its potential contribution to yearly global Cd emissions to air and water may well be orders-of-magnitude lower than the respective current Cd emissions rates in Europe.
[en] The photovoltaic energy sector is rapidly expanding and technological specification for PV has improved dramatically in the last two decades. This paper sketches the current state of the art and drafts three alternative scenarios for the future, in terms of costs, market penetration and environmental performance. According to these scenarios, if economic incentives are supported long enough into the next ten to twenty years, PV looks set for a rosy future, and is likely to play a significant role in the future energy mix, while at the same time contributing to reduce the environmental impact of electricity supply. (author)
[en] We performed a comprehensive and internally consistent assessment of the energy performance of the full range of electricity production technologies in the United Kingdom, integrating the viewpoints offered by net energy analysis (NEA) and life cycle assessment (LCA). Specifically, the energy return on investment (EROI), net-to-gross energy output ratio (NTG) and non-renewable cumulative energy demand (nr-CED) indicators were calculated for coal, oil, gas, biomass, nuclear, hydro, wind and PV electricity. Results point to wind, and to a lesser extent PV, as the most recommendable technologies overall in order to foster a transition towards an improved electricity grid mix in the UK, from both points of view of short-term effectiveness at providing a net energy gain to support the multiple societal energy consumption patterns, and long-term energy sustainability (the latter being inversely proportional to the reliance on non-renewable primary energy sources). The importance to maintain a sufficient installed capacity of readily-dispatchable gas-fired electricity is also recognised. - Highlights: • We assess the energy performance of electricity generation technologies in the UK. • The NEA and LCA methodologies are reviewed and discussed. • Net energy gain and non-renewable cumulative energy demand are deemed key metrics. • Wind, and to a lesser extent PV, are found to be the most recommendable technologies. • Natural gas combined cycles are also recognised as important for dispatchability.
[en] The paper is concerned with the results of a thorough energy and life cycle assessment (LIA) of CdTe and CIS photovoltaic modules. The analysis is based on actual production data, making it one of the very first of its kind to be presented to the scientific community, and therefore especially worthy of attention as a preliminary indication of the future environmental impact that the up-scaling of thin film module production may entail. The analysis is consistent with the recommendations provided by ISO norms 14040 and updates, and makes use of an in-house developed multi-method impact assessment method named SUMMA, which includes resource demand indicators, energy efficiency indicators, and 'downstream' environmental impact indicators. A comparative framework is also provided, wherein electricity produced by thin film systems such as the ones under study is set up against electricity from poly-Si systems and the average European electricity mix. Results clearly show an overall very promising picture for thin film technologies, which are found to be characterised by favourable environmental impact indicators (with special reference to CdTe systems), in spite of their still comparatively lower efficiencies
[en] A high energy return on energy investment (EROI) of an energy production process is crucial to its long-term viability. The EROI of conventional thermal electricity from fossil fuels has been viewed as being much higher than those of renewable energy life-cycles, and specifically of photovoltaics (PVs). We show that this is largely a misconception fostered by the use of outdated data and, often, a lack of consistency among calculation methods. We hereby present a thorough review of the methodology, discuss methodological variations and present updated EROI values for a range of modern PV systems, in comparison to conventional fossil-fuel based electricity life-cycles. - Highlights: ► We perform a review of the EROI methodology. ► We provide new calculations for PV compared to oil- and coal-based energy systems. ► If compared consistently, PV sits squarely in the same range of EROI as conventional fossil fuel life cycles.
[en] Increasing distributed renewable electricity generation is one of a number of technology pathways available to policy makers to meet environmental and other sustainability goals. Determining the efficacy of such a pathway for a national electricity system implies evaluating whole system change in future scenarios. Life cycle assessment (LCA) and net energy analysis (NEA) are two methodologies suitable for prospective and consequential analysis of energy performance and associated impacts. This paper discusses the benefits and limitations of prospective and consequential LCA and NEA analysis of distributed generation. It concludes that a combined LCA and NEA approach is a valuable tool for decision makers if a number of recommendations are addressed. Static and dynamic temporal allocation are both needed for a fair comparison of distributed renewables with thermal power stations to account for their different impact profiles over time. The trade-offs between comprehensiveness and uncertainty in consequential analysis should be acknowledged, with system boundary expansion and system simulation models limited to those clearly justified by the research goal. The results of this approach are explorative, rather than for accounting purposes; this interpretive remit, and the assumptions in scenarios and system models on which results are contingent, must be clear to end users. - Highlights: • A common LCA and NEA framework for prospective, consequential analysis is discussed. • Approach to combined LCA and NEA of distributed generation scenarios is proposed. • Static and dynamic temporal allocation needed to assess distributed generation uptake.
[en] Highlights: • Four future UK grid mix scenarios with increased PV capacity are assessed and compared. • A range of energy, emission and technical metrics are defined and employed. • All scenarios lead to improved energy use and reduced GHG emissions. - Abstract: The increasing contribution of renewable energies to electricity grids in order to address impending environmental challenges implies a reduction in non-renewable resource use and an alignment with a global transition toward a low-carbon electric sector. In this paper, four future UK grid mix scenarios with increased photovoltaic (PV) installed capacity are assessed and compared to a benchmark “Low PV” scenario, from 2016 to 2035. The complexity of the issue requires a multi-disciplinary approach to evaluate the availability of net energy, environmental aspects and technical performance. Hence, the comparison between scenarios includes short-term and long-term energy metrics as well as greenhouse gas (GHG) and technical metrics. Also, the paper considers the viewpoints offered by both an “integrative” and a “dynamic” approach to net energy analysis. Results for all five analysed scenarios indicate that increased PV deployment will not be detrimental to the UK grid performance from the points of view of a wide range of system-level technical (% renewable energy curtailment to ensure grid stability), energy (energy return on investment and non-renewable cumulative energy demand) and environmental (greenhouse gas emissions) metrics.
[en] Highlights: • Global Warming Potential (GWP) is the default emission metric in LCA. • Alternative metrics and climate forcing agents other than GHGs are ignored. • These limitations can lead decision makers to deploy suboptimal mitigation options. • We discuss the complexity of the climate system and identify improvements for LCA. • We argue for their consideration to bridge the existing gap with climate science. - Abstract: Life-cycle assessment and carbon footprint studies are widely used by decision makers to identify climate change mitigation options and priorities at corporate and public levels. These applications, including the vast majority of emission accounting schemes and policy frameworks, traditionally quantify climate impacts of human activities by aggregating greenhouse gas emissions into the so-called CO2-equivalents using the 100-year Global Warming Potential (GWP100) as the default emission metric. The practice was established in the early nineties and has not been coupled with progresses in climate science, other than simply updating numerical values for GWP100. We review the key insights from the literature surrounding climate science that are at odds with existing climate impact methods and we identify possible improvement options. Issues with the existing approach lie in the use of a single metric that cannot represent the climate system complexity for all possible research and policy contexts, and in the default exclusion of near-term climate forcers such as aerosols or ozone precursors and changes in the Earth’s energy balance associated with land cover changes. Failure to acknowledge the complexity of climate change drivers and the spatial and temporal heterogeneities of their climate system responses can lead to the deployment of suboptimal, and potentially even counterproductive, mitigation strategies. We argue for an active consideration of these aspects to bridge the gap between climate impact methods used in environmental impact analysis and climate science.
[en] A recent paper by asserts that the ERoEI (also referred to as EROI) of photovoltaic (PV) systems is so low that they actually act as net energy sinks, rather than delivering energy to society. Such claim, if accurate, would call into question many energy investment decisions. In the same paper, a comparison is also drawn between PV and nuclear electricity. We have carefully analysed this paper, and found methodological inconsistencies and calculation errors that, in combination, render its conclusions not scientifically sound. Ferroni and Hopkirk adopt ‘extended’ boundaries for their analysis of PV without acknowledging that such choice of boundaries makes their results incompatible with those for all other technologies that have been analysed using more conventional boundaries, including nuclear energy with which the authors engage in multiple inconsistent comparisons. In addition, they use out-dated information, make invalid assumptions on PV specifications and other key parameters, and conduct calculation errors, including double counting. We herein provide revised EROI calculations for PV electricity in Switzerland, adopting both conventional and ‘extended’ system boundaries, to contrast with their results, which points to an order-of-magnitude underestimate of the EROI of PV in Switzerland by Ferroni and Hopkirk. - Highlights: • A recent paper by Ferroni and Hopkirk estimated an EROI=0.8 for PV in Switzerland. • We identify several critical methodological and calculation flaws in that paper. • We discuss such flaws in detail and rebut Ferroni and Hopkirk's conclusions. • We provide revised EROI calculations with both conventional and extended boundaries.