Wind and Solar GHG Emissions Vary Substantially, but are Lower than Coal or Gas in all Cases

by Tim Storer

            Renewable energy sources, such as wind power generation, are often touted as preferable alternatives to fossil fuels because they produce electricity in an “emissions-free” manner. In actuality, some emissions are created during the production, distribution, and disposal of these technologies, making them not a truly “emissions-free” means of energy production. In order to determine the real relative advantages of various energy sources (in respect to carbon emissions), the full life cycle must be considered. Daniel Nugent and Benjamin Sovacool conducted a literature review of 153 lifecycle studies examining total carbon emissions associated with energy from wind and solar plants and determined estimates of industry averages. Of the 41 studies deemed “best,” an average of 34.1 g CO2/kWh was seen for wind energy and 49.9 g CO2/kWh for solar. Among these cases, substantial variability was observed, with wind emissions varying between 0.4–364.8 g CO2/kWh and solar emitting 1–218 g CO2/kWh. Continue reading