Environmental co-benefits and adverse side-effects of alternative power sector decarbonization strategies
A rapid and deep decarbonization of power supply worldwide is required to limit global warming to well below 2 °C. Beyond greenhouse gas emissions, the power sector is also responsible for numerous other environmental impacts. Here we combine scenarios from integrated assessment models with a forward-looking life-cycle assessment to explore how alternative technology choices in power sector decarbonization pathways compare in terms of non-climate environmental impacts at the system level. While all decarbonization pathways yield major environmental co-benefits, we find that the scale of co-benefits as well as profiles of adverse side-effects depend strongly on technology choice. Mitigation scenarios focusing on wind and solar power are more effective in reducing human health impacts compared to those with low renewable energy, while inducing a more pronounced shift away from fossil and toward mineral resource depletion. Conversely, non-climate ecosystem damages are highly uncertain but tend to increase, chiefly due to land requirements for bioenergy.