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Computing life-cycle emissions from transitioning the electricity sector using a discrete numerical approach


  • Hamilton, Nicholas E.
  • Howard, Bahareh Sara
  • Diesendorf, Mark
  • Wiedmann, Thomas


We present a discrete numerical computational approach for modelling the CO2eq emissions when transitioning from existing legacy electricity production technologies based on fossil fuels, to new and potentially sustainable alternatives based on renewable energy. This approach addresses the dynamic nature of the transition, where the degree of transition has an ongoing, beneficial and compounding effect on future technological deployments. In other words, as the energy system evolves, renewable energy technologies are made increasingly with renewable energy, thus becoming renewable energy ‘breeders’. We apply this routine to four previously published scenarios for the transition of the Australian electricity sector, which at present accounts for about one-third of the country's annual CO2eq emissions. We find that three of the four scenarios fail to satisfy the electricity sector's proportion of Australia's share of the 2.0 °C/66% IPCC carbon budget, and none of them achieves the 1.5 °C budget. Only the High Carbon Price scenario could be deemed to have made any meaningful impact. An urgent, rapid transition to 100% renewable energy must be made in the whole energy sector, not just electricity, if the 1.5 °C budget is to be satisfied.

Suggested Citation

  • Hamilton, Nicholas E. & Howard, Bahareh Sara & Diesendorf, Mark & Wiedmann, Thomas, 2017. "Computing life-cycle emissions from transitioning the electricity sector using a discrete numerical approach," Energy, Elsevier, vol. 137(C), pages 314-324.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:energy:v:137:y:2017:i:c:p:314-324
    DOI: 10.1016/

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Hondo, Hiroki, 2005. "Life cycle GHG emission analysis of power generation systems: Japanese case," Energy, Elsevier, vol. 30(11), pages 2042-2056.
    2. Byrnes, Liam & Brown, Colin & Foster, John & Wagner, Liam D., 2013. "Australian renewable energy policy: Barriers and challenges," Renewable Energy, Elsevier, vol. 60(C), pages 711-721.
    3. Elliston, Ben & MacGill, Iain & Diesendorf, Mark, 2013. "Least cost 100% renewable electricity scenarios in the Australian National Electricity Market," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 59(C), pages 270-282.
    4. Elliston, Ben & MacGill, Iain & Diesendorf, Mark, 2014. "Comparing least cost scenarios for 100% renewable electricity with low emission fossil fuel scenarios in the Australian National Electricity Market," Renewable Energy, Elsevier, vol. 66(C), pages 196-204.
    5. R. J. Barthelmie & S. C. Pryor, 2014. "Potential contribution of wind energy to climate change mitigation," Nature Climate Change, Nature, vol. 4(8), pages 684-688, August.
    6. Weisser, Daniel, 2007. "A guide to life-cycle greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from electric supply technologies," Energy, Elsevier, vol. 32(9), pages 1543-1559.
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    Cited by:

    1. Anders Arvesen & Steve Völler & Christine Roxanne Hung & Volker Krey & Magnus Korpås & Anders Hammer Strømman, 2021. "Emissions of electric vehicle charging in future scenarios: The effects of time of charging," Journal of Industrial Ecology, Yale University, vol. 25(5), pages 1250-1263, October.
    2. Henning Meschede & Paul Bertheau & Siavash Khalili & Christian Breyer, 2022. "A review of 100% renewable energy scenarios on islands," Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Energy and Environment, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 11(6), November.
    3. Hansen, Kenneth & Breyer, Christian & Lund, Henrik, 2019. "Status and perspectives on 100% renewable energy systems," Energy, Elsevier, vol. 175(C), pages 471-480.
    4. Howard, Bahareh Sara & Hamilton, Nicholas E. & Diesendorf, Mark & Wiedmann, Thomas, 2018. "Modeling the carbon budget of the Australian electricity sector's transition to renewable energy," Renewable Energy, Elsevier, vol. 125(C), pages 712-728.

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