The first-ever global life cycle assessment of renewable energy has revealed that a shift to renewable power is indeed feasible and will provide both cleaner air and water.

The assessment maintains that a future where electricity stems largely from low-carbon sources will not only be feasible in terms of material demand but will significantly reduce air pollution.

An international team led by Edgar Hertwich and Thomas Gibon from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology conducted the assessment of the long-term, wide-scale implementation of electricity generation from renewable resources. An important aspect of the model was that it allowed the integration of electricity produced by these prospective technologies back into the economic model.

The researchers looked at concentrating solar power, photovoltaics, wind power, hydropower, and gas- and coal-fired power plants with carbon capture and storage. They also assumed that the efficiency of the production of important raw materials such as aluminium, copper, nickel, iron and steel, for example, would improve over time.

The researchers assessed a Baseline scenario where global electricity production has been assumed to increase by 134% between 2007 and 2050 and where fossil fuels maintain their high share in the electricity generation mix, accounting for two-thirds of the total. Under this scenario, coal-based generation is 149% higher in 2050 than in 2007, accounting for 44% of all power generation.

In addition they also assessed BLUE map scenario which assumes that electricity demand in 2050 is 13% lower than in the Baseline scenario because of increased energy efficiency, and that the power sector emits less pollutants from fossil fuels by reducing their use and adopting carbon capture and storage technologies, along with an increase in the use of renewable energies.

The study has been published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.