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Study shows solar, wind and nuclear power are the future with low carbon footprint - 13th December


The study looked into the full lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions of a range of sources of electricity up until 2050. The results suggest that solar, wind and nuclear power all provide much lower carbon footprints than coal or gas with carbon capture and storage, despite the emissions for manufacturing, constructing and fuel supply.

Project leader Gunnar Luderer claims there was concerns that the energy required to produce wind turbines and solar panels would outweigh the benefits from these renewable sources. However, he said the expansion of of wind and solar power comes with emissions which are significantly smaller than the remaining emissions from existing fossil power plants before they can be decommissioned.

Many people claim these renewable energy sources have a large carbon debt due to the amount of energy required for manufacturing and construction and in order to cut emissions this ‘debt’ needs to be paid off.

However, fossil fuels have the same carbon emissions plus more from extraction machinery, fuel transport, methane leaks, well heads and coal mines, as well as the emissions which are produced from burning these energy sources. This will continue even if these fossil plants opt for carbon capture and storage solutions.

Embodied energy explains the amount of energy required to build power stations as well as the other inputs they need to run. Electricity from fossil fuels, hydro and bioenergy has a much higher embodied energy compared to nuclear, wind and solar power.

The study found that 11% of the energy generated by a coal-fired power station is offset by the energy needed to construct and supply the plant. Whereas nuclear is only 5%, solar is 4% and wind is 2%.   

Professor Hertwich conducted a study in 2013 which looked at the natural resources needed to generate power from wind, solar, gas and other fuel sources. The results indicated that renewable energy reduces all form of pollution, even with the need for larger quantities of raw materials used for construction.

Therefore despite that claims that the costs outweigh the benefits for renewable sources, this study indicates that the hidden emissions are actually very low and they are more beneficial for the climate than fossil fuels.

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