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Renewable Energy Has a Much Lower Footprint

I recently saw some great data from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) on the clean energy transition and perceived tradeoffs. In short, lifecycle analyses show that renewables have lower carbon emissions and produce less waste — by a lot.

It’s fair to look at lifecycle impacts — and no tech has zero footprint — but clean tech critics imply (or say) that clean techs are no better, or even worse.

It’s not remotely true. It’s misinformation. (Note: At every event/talk I do, I get a question about how EVs are ‘worse’ than combustion engine cars or about the how solar has a dark side — it’s almost like there’s a concerted misinformation campaign).

Two fascinating studies by NREL destroy these misperceptions:

🗑 On waste: As Sierra Club‘s magazine described the findings, “as much toxic [coal waste] is generated globally in one month as solar panels are expected to produce in the next 35 years.”

☀ On GHG emissions: NREL’s “Life Cycle Assessment Harmonization” is a meta-study, looking at dozens of LCA studies to find a median estimate of lifecycle emissions per kwh. See the chart, but in short, compared to solar, wind, and nuclear, coal’s lifecycle GHG emissions are 20 to 100 times greater.

A systems-wide view of impacts is important, but let’s keep our eye on the prize. Clean techs are not perfect, or magic, but they help create a much healthier world.

One Response

  1. Thanks Andrew. I hope this reply message finds you and your family doing well. Good timing on this article. I just completed a Circular Economy training for Siemens Financial Services. LCA and the ability to track materials and wastes for different innovations was a topic of discussion. I look forward to deeper investigation.