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Report Examines the Carbon Cost of Green Energy

  • Analyst issues report unraveling the carbon costs of green energy options such as solar or wind
  • Raw material extraction and production creates up-front carbon costs, but renewables have a considerably lower carbon footprint than coal or natural gas
  • Nuclear energy has a slightly lower carbon footprint than wind, but ongoing innovations could tip the balance

Summary by Dirk Langeveld

While renewable energy can produce electricity without carbon emissions, there is an up-front carbon cost involved in extracting materials and producing clean energy infrastructure. A recent report by analyst Deepa Venkateswaran at Bernstein Research sought to determine how well renewables offset their initial carbon footprint and how they compare with fossil fuel power sources.

Venkateswaran’s findings include:

  • Wind and solar still offer a considerably lower carbon footprint compared to coal and natural gas, which have ongoing carbon emissions
  • The majority of the carbon impact of wind turbines is in the steel for the tower, concrete for the foundation and carbon fiber and fiberglass for the blades
  • Wind’s carbon impact is nearly 100 percent lower than coal or natural gas, and about 75 percent lower than solar
  • Wind produces about 11 grams of carbon dioxide emissions per kilowatt hour of electricity generated, compared to 44 grams for solar, 450 grams for natural gas, and 1,000 grams for coal
  • Nuclear energy has a lower carbon footprint with nine grams of carbon dioxide emissions per kilowatt hour of electricity generated, but innovations such as green steel and GE’s massive Haliade-X turbines could soon make wind the less carbon-intensive option

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