Renewable Electricity Options

Thesis Title: Principles-Based Comparison Framework for Renewable Electricity Options

Electricity generation is both a major contributor to the root causes of environmental unsustainability and an energy source that will likely play an important role in the transition to a sustainable society.

Because renewable sources of electricity generation are seen as sustainable as a group, there is a danger that investments will be made in renewable technologies that do not effectively move society towards sustainability. We propose the use of a scientific, principles-based definition of sustainability to compare current and future renewable electricity options on their sustainability potential.

This study presents a pilot decision-support comparison tool, Guide for Sustainable Energy Decisions (GSED), designed to give investors, policy makers, and manufacturers strategic guidance on the most effective renewable technologies to invest in for sustainability.

The tool is based on a modified version of life cycle assessment (LCA) that allows comparisons of the upstream and downstream effects of generation technologies from a whole-systems sustainability perspective. Early feedback by experts suggests that the tool has strong potential to serve as an effective comparison tool and help decision-makers make strategic investments for sustainability.

Thesis Contents

1 Introduction
1.1 Electricity Generation and Sustainability
1.1.1 Electricity Generation Today
1.1.2 Electricity Generation in Context
1.2 Framework for Strategic Sustainable Development
1.2.1 Defining Sustainability
1.2.2 The ABCD Process
1.2.3 Moving to Sustainability Electricity Generation
1.3 Current Decision-Making Tools and Strategies
1.3.1 Overview
1.3.2 Current Areas of Strength
1.3.3 Opportunities for Improvement
1.4 A Tool for Electricity Decisions
1.4.1 Scope and Limitations of Current Research
1.5 Research Questions
2 Methods
2.1 Research Design
2.2 Comparison Framework Development
2.3 Framework Testing and Feedback
2.3.1 Tool Testing
2.3.2 Feedback
3 Results
3.1 Overview
3.2 The GSED Tool
3.2.1 Key Attributes
3.2.2 Framework Overview
3.2.3 Goal Description and Scoping
3.2.4 Life Cycle Inventory
3.2.5 Impact Assessment
3.2.6 Life Cycle Interpretation
3.3 Tool Testing
3.3.1 Overview of Pilot Technologies
3.3.2 Building General Comparison Models
3.3.3 Key Life Cycle Findings for Wind
3.3.4 Comparison Results
3.4 Expert Feedback
3.4.2 Areas of Strength
3.4.3 Areas for Improvement
3.4.4 Inherent Limitations
4 Discussion
4.1 Research Validity
4.2 Meeting the Success Criteria
4.2.1 Whole-Systems Perspective
4.2.2 Ability to Compare a Wide Range of Options
4.2.3 Full Life Cycle Perspective
4.2.4 Ease of Use, Flexibility, and Accessibility
4.3 Areas for Improvement
4.3.1 Guidance on Trade-Offs
4.3.2 Clarity Regarding the Sustainability Principles
4.3.3 Additional Areas to Consider
4.4 Inherent Limitations
5 Conclusion
5.1 Next Steps
5.1.1 Integration with Existing Tools
5.2 Final Thoughts
Appendix A: Analysis of Wind Power
Appendix B: Example of GSED Glossary
Appendix C: Exploratory Interviews
Appendix D: Workshop Participants
Appendix E: Feedback Interviews

Source: Blekinge Institute of Technology

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