Solar-thermal power plants have the best sustainability index, according to a new study

Model offers complex view of power generation sustainability

A new model developed by Spanish researchers provides a 360-degree view on various power generation technologies in regards to their sustainability.

Described in an article in the latest issue of the journal Energy, the new method creates a universal ‘sustainability index’ that takes into account all parameters involved in various types of power generation and how they affect the wellbeing of the world and its population – that includes all cost, contribution to global warming and noise levels, as well as job creation.

"The mistake is sometimes made of associating sustainability solely with caring for or respecting the environment," said Juan José Cartelle Barros, the lead author of the study from Universidade da Coruña.

"Sustainable development is something more. It covers aspects related to the economy, society and the environment. Thus, it is time to think about electricity generation in a broad sense, covering all three pillars in depth."

The results produced by the model showed that with the exception of biomass, renewable energies are much more sustainable than traditional fossil-fuel based power generation. On the scale from zero to one, where zero is the worst and one is the best, renewable resources scored between 0.39 and 0.80. Conventional power plants, on the other hand, were graded between 0.29 and 0.57.

The top spots (indicating the most significant contribution to sustainability) were occupied by solar-thermal plants, wind farms, photovoltaic solar plants and mini-hydroelectric power plants, in that order.

The study included ten common energy generation systems and gauged every one of them by 27 parameters.

However, the researchers stressed, a mix of approaches would likely be the best solution, paired with a reduction in energy consumption on the global scale.

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