Coal with Carbon Capture and Sequestration is not as Land Use Efficient as Solar Photovoltaic Technology for Climate Neutral Electricity Production
Avoiding climate destabilization caused by greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, requires climate-neutral electricity sources. It has been proposed that the GHG emissions from coal-fired power plants can be offset by carbon capture and sequestration or bio-sequestration. However, solar photovoltaic (PV) technology has recently declined so far in costs it now offers both technical and economic potential to offset all of coal-fired electricity use. PV only emits GHGs during fabrication and not during use. To determine which technical solution to climate-neutral electricity generation should be preferred, this study aggregates and synthesizes life cycle analysis studies for exergy, GHG emissions and land transformation for climate-neutral electricity. The results show that because of lower exergy efficiencies coal plants emit 13-18 times more GHG and transform 5-13 times more land than PV. Optimal bio-sequestration of coal-fired GHG requires 62% of U.S. arable land or 89% of all U.S land with average forest cover. Carbon capture and storage and enhanced oil recovery can improve coal performance, but for all cases the results clearly show that PV is a far more effective use of land. Overall, for the first time this study found climate-neutral photovoltaic farms are a preferred solution to climate-neutral coal fired electricity generation.