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Towards a sustainable global energy supply infrastructure: Net energy balance and density considerations

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  • Kessides, Ioannis N.
  • Wade, David C.
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    Abstract

    This paper employs a framework of dynamic energy analysis to model the growth potential of alternative electricity supply infrastructures as constrained by innate physical energy balance and dynamic response limits. Coal-fired generation meets the criteria of longevity (abundance of energy source) and scalability (ability to expand to the multi-terawatt level) which are critical for a sustainable energy supply chain, but carries a very heavy carbon footprint. Renewables and nuclear power, on the other hand, meet both the longevity and environmental friendliness criteria. However, due to their substantially different energy densities and load factors, they vary in terms of their ability to deliver net excess energy and attain the scale needed for meeting the huge global energy demand. The low power density of renewable energy extraction and the intermittency of renewable flows limit their ability to achieve high rates of indigenous infrastructure growth. A significant global nuclear power deployment, on the other hand, could engender serious risks related to proliferation, safety, and waste disposal. Unlike renewable sources of energy, nuclear power is an unforgiving technology because human lapses and errors can have ecological and social impacts that are catastrophic and irreversible. Thus, the transition to a low carbon economy is likely to prove much more challenging than early optimists have claimed.

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    Bibliographic Info

    Article provided by Elsevier in its journal Energy Policy.

    Volume (Year): 39 (2011)
    Issue (Month): 9 (September)
    Pages: 5322-5334

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    Handle: RePEc:eee:enepol:v:39:y:2011:i:9:p:5322-5334

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    Web page: http://www.elsevier.com/locate/enpol

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    Keywords: Energy sustainability Renewables Nuclear power;

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    1. Sagar, Ambuj D. & van der Zwaan, Bob, 2006. "Technological innovation in the energy sector: R&D, deployment, and learning-by-doing," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 34(17), pages 2601-2608, November.
    2. Kenny, R. & Law, C. & Pearce, J.M., 2010. "Towards real energy economics: Energy policy driven by life-cycle carbon emission," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 38(4), pages 1969-1978, April.
    3. Fthenakis, Vasilis & Kim, Hyung Chul, 2009. "Land use and electricity generation: A life-cycle analysis," Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, Elsevier, vol. 13(6-7), pages 1465-1474, August.
    4. Lenzen, Manfred & Dey, Christopher, 2000. "Truncation error in embodied energy analyses of basic iron and steel products," Energy, Elsevier, vol. 25(6), pages 577-585.
    5. Kubiszewski, Ida & Cleveland, Cutler J. & Endres, Peter K., 2010. "Meta-analysis of net energy return for wind power systems," Renewable Energy, Elsevier, vol. 35(1), pages 218-225.
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