Tuesday 21 Oct 2014The "Green" Energy Myth: How the System of Systems Perspective Can Change the Energy Sustainability Definition

Dr Kaveh Madani - Imperial College

Harrison 103 13:00-14:00

Renewable energies are emerging across the globe in an attempt to combat global warming and to improve national energy security in face of the depleting fossil fuel reserves. However, the general policy of mandating the replacement of fossil fuels with the so-called "green" energies may not be as effective and environmental-friendly as previously thought, due to the secondary impacts of renewable energies on different natural resources. Thus, an integrated systems analysis framework is essential to selecting optimal energy sources that address global warming and energy security concerns with minimal unintended consequences and undesired secondary impacts on valuable natural resources. This presentation discusses how a system of systems (SoS) framework can be developed to determine the desirability of different energy supply alternatives with respect to different sustainability criteria under uncertainty. Based on the SoS method, the Relative Aggregate Footprint (RAF) scores of a range of renewable and nonrenewable energy alternatives are determined using their previously reported performance values under four sustainability criteria, namely carbon footprint, water footprint, land footprint, and cost of energy production. These criteria represent the environmental efficiency, water use efficiency, land use efficiency, and economic efficiency, respectively. The study results suggest that despite their lower carbon footprints, some renewable energy sources are less promising than non-renewable energy sources from a SoS perspective that considers the trade-offs between greenhouse gas emissions and the effects on water, ecosystem, and economic resources. A new framework based on the Modern Portfolio Theory (MPT) is also proposed for analyzing the overall sustainability of different energy mixes for different risk of return levels with respect to the trade-offs involved. It is discussed how the proposed finance-based sustainability evaluation method can help policy makers maximize the energy portfolio’s expected sustainability for a given amount of portfolio risk, or equivalently minimize risk for a given level of expected sustainability level, by revising the energy mix.

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