Renewable solar power has fewer emissions over its life-cycle than any form of so called “clean coal” based energy, new research shows.
According to a team of international scientists, wind and solar energy win hands down over ‘clean coal’ in terms of indirect carbon emissions.
All forms of energy production emit greenhouse gases to some degree, the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) report claims. In fact, even wind and solar power systems emit carbon during construction and operation.
Yet full decarbonisation of global power would cause only small indirect emissions. And this is good news for transformation into a climate-friendly power system.
Coal technologies can’t compete with solar power
The study, published in Nature Energy journal, also found substantial differences between energy technologies.
Electricity generated from biomass, coal, gas and hydropower have relatively high indirect greenhouse gas emissions.
On the other hand, emissions from nuclear electricity along with wind and solar-based power are significantly lower.
Wind, solar and home battery storage therefore give better greenhouse gas balance than fossil-based low carbon technologies. This is because:
- No additional energy is required to produce and transport fuels.
- They can be produced largely with decarbonized electricity.
- Technological innovation means less energy can produce wind turbines and solar panels.
There is no such thing as truly clean coal
Carbon capture, ‘clean coal’ and sequestration still emit significant levels of carbon over their lifetimes, the PIK report shows.
The conclusion is that there is no such thing as completely clean coal. Yet electricity must be virtually carbon free to keep global warming below 2 degrees C.
Conventional coal power comes with around 1,000 grams of CO2-equivalents per kWh. Carbon capture at coal plants can reduce per kWh emissions by some 90 percent. However, this is still substantially higher than renewable energy formats.
A Climate Council report released in June 2017 also debunked the merits of clean coal.
As well as its damaging environmental and health effects, coal power did not meet the recommendations of the government-inspired Finkel Review, the report found.