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Concept: Renewable energy


Solar energy is potentially the largest source of renewable energy at our disposal, but significant advances are required to make photovoltaic technologies economically viable and, from a life-cycle perspective, environmentally friendly, and consequently scalable. Cellulose nanomaterials are emerging high-value nanoparticles extracted from plants that are abundant, renewable, and sustainable. Here, we report on the first demonstration of efficient polymer solar cells fabricated on optically transparent cellulose nanocrystal (CNC) substrates. The solar cells fabricated on the CNC substrates display good rectification in the dark and reach a power conversion efficiency of 2.7%. In addition, we demonstrate that these solar cells can be easily separated and recycled into their major components using low-energy processes at room temperature, opening the door for a truly recyclable solar cell technology. Efficient and easily recyclable organic solar cells on CNC substrates are expected to be an attractive technology for sustainable, scalable, and environmentally-friendly energy production.

Concepts: Energy, Quantum dot, Solar cell, Photovoltaics, Organic solar cell, Energy conversion, Energy conversion efficiency, Renewable energy


Decarbonization of electricity generation can support climate-change mitigation and presents an opportunity to address pollution resulting from fossil-fuel combustion. Generally, renewable technologies require higher initial investments in infrastructure than fossil-based power systems. To assess the tradeoffs of increased up-front emissions and reduced operational emissions, we present, to our knowledge, the first global, integrated life-cycle assessment (LCA) of long-term, wide-scale implementation of electricity generation from renewable sources (i.e., photovoltaic and solar thermal, wind, and hydropower) and of carbon dioxide capture and storage for fossil power generation. We compare emissions causing particulate matter exposure, freshwater ecotoxicity, freshwater eutrophication, and climate change for the climate-change-mitigation (BLUE Map) and business-as-usual (Baseline) scenarios of the International Energy Agency up to 2050. We use a vintage stock model to conduct an LCA of newly installed capacity year-by-year for each region, thus accounting for changes in the energy mix used to manufacture future power plants. Under the Baseline scenario, emissions of air and water pollutants more than double whereas the low-carbon technologies introduced in the BLUE Map scenario allow a doubling of electricity supply while stabilizing or even reducing pollution. Material requirements per unit generation for low-carbon technologies can be higher than for conventional fossil generation: 11-40 times more copper for photovoltaic systems and 6-14 times more iron for wind power plants. However, only two years of current global copper and one year of iron production will suffice to build a low-carbon energy system capable of supplying the world’s electricity needs in 2050.

Concepts: Oxygen, Carbon dioxide, Iron, Renewable energy, Coal, Wind power, Electricity generation, Low-carbon economy


The United Nations Conference on Climate Change (Paris 2015) reached an international agreement to keep the rise in global average temperature ‘well below 2°C’ and to ‘aim to limit the increase to 1.5°C’. These reductions will have to be made in the face of rising global energy demand. Here a thoroughly validated dynamic econometric model (Eq 1) is used to forecast global energy demand growth (International Energy Agency and BP), which is driven by an increase of the global population (UN), energy use per person and real GDP (World Bank and Maddison). Even relatively conservative assumptions put a severe upward pressure on forecast global energy demand and highlight three areas of concern. First, is the potential for an exponential increase of fossil fuel consumption, if renewable energy systems are not rapidly scaled up. Second, implementation of internationally mandated CO2 emission controls are forecast to place serious constraints on fossil fuel use from ~2030 onward, raising energy security implications. Third is the challenge of maintaining the international ‘pro-growth’ strategy being used to meet poverty alleviation targets, while reducing CO2 emissions. Our findings place global economists and environmentalists on the same side as they indicate that the scale up of CO2 neutral renewable energy systems is not only important to protect against climate change, but to enhance global energy security by reducing our dependence of fossil fuels and to provide a sustainable basis for economic development and poverty alleviation. Very hard choices will have to be made to achieve ‘sustainable development’ goals.

Concepts: Carbon dioxide, Sustainability, Fossil fuel, Renewable energy, Peak oil, Energy development, Greenhouse gas, Energy economics


To realize the sustainable energy supply in smart city, it is essential to maximize energy scavenging from the city environments for achieving the self-powered functions of some intelligent devices and sensors. Although the solar energy can be well harvested by using existing technologies, the large amounts of wasted wind energy in the city cannot be effectively utilized since the conventional wind turbine generators can only be installed in remote areas due to the large volumes and the safety issues. Here, we rationally design a hybridized nanogenerator, including a solar cell (SC) and a triboelectric nanogenerator (TENG), that can individually/simultaneously scavenging solar and wind energies, which can be extensively installed on the roofs of the city buildings. Under the same device area of about 120 mm×22 mm, the SC can deliver a largest output power of about 8 mW, while the output power of the TENG can be up to 26 mW. Impedance matching between the SC and TENG has been achieved by using a transformer to decrease the impedance of the TENG. The hybridized nanogenerator has a larger output current and a better charging performance than that of the individual SC or TENG. This research presents a feasible approach to maximize solar and wind energies scavenging from the city environments with the aim to realize some self-powered functions in smart city.

Concepts: Sun, Renewable energy, Solar power, Nuclear power, Wind power, Energy development, World energy resources and consumption, Wind turbine


Recent forecasts suggest that African countries must triple their current electricity generation by 2030. Our multicriteria assessment of wind and solar potential for large regions of Africa shows how economically competitive and low-environmental-impact renewable resources can significantly contribute to meeting this demand. We created the Multicriteria Analysis for Planning Renewable Energy (MapRE) framework to map and characterize solar and wind energy zones in 21 countries in the Southern African Power Pool (SAPP) and the Eastern Africa Power Pool (EAPP) and find that potential is several times greater than demand in many countries. Significant fractions of demand can be quickly served with “no-regrets” options-or zones that are low-cost, low-environmental impact, and highly accessible. Because no-regrets options are spatially heterogeneous, international interconnections are necessary to help achieve low-carbon development for the region as a whole, and interconnections that support the best renewable options may differ from those planned for hydropower expansion. Additionally, interconnections and selecting wind sites to match demand reduce the need for SAPP-wide conventional generation capacity by 9.5% in a high-wind scenario, resulting in a 6-20% cost savings, depending on the avoided conventional technology. Strategic selection of low-impact and accessible zones is more cost effective with interconnections compared with solutions without interconnections. Overall results are robust to multiple load growth scenarios. Together, results show that multicriteria site selection and deliberate planning of interconnections may significantly increase the economic and environmental competitiveness of renewable alternatives relative to conventional generation.

Concepts: Energy, Africa, Madagascar, Renewable energy, Wind power, East Africa, Renewable resource, Capacity factor


Wind turbines convert kinetic to electrical energy, which returns to the atmosphere as heat to regenerate some potential and kinetic energy. As the number of wind turbines increases over large geographic regions, power extraction first increases linearly, but then converges to a saturation potential not identified previously from physical principles or turbine properties. These saturation potentials are >250 terawatts (TW) at 100 m globally, approximately 80 TW at 100 m over land plus coastal ocean outside Antarctica, and approximately 380 TW at 10 km in the jet streams. Thus, there is no fundamental barrier to obtaining half (approximately 5.75 TW) or several times the world’s all-purpose power from wind in a 2030 clean-energy economy.

Concepts: Energy, Kinetic energy, Potential energy, Renewable energy, Wind power, Joule, Wind turbine, Windmill


Sustainability assessments of coastal beach exploitation are difficult because the identification of appropriate monitoring methodologies and evaluation procedures is still ongoing. In particular, the most suitable procedure for the application of sustainability assessment to coastal beaches remains uncertain. This paper presents a complete sustainability assessment process for coastal beach exploitation based on the analytic hierarchy process (AHP). We developed an assessment framework consisting of 14 indicators derived from the three dimensions of suitability, economic and social value, and ecosystem. We chose a wind power project on a coastal beach of Yancheng as a case study. The results indicated that the wind power farms on the coastal beach were not completely in keeping with sustainable development theory. The construction of the wind power farms had some negative impacts. Therefore, in the design stage, wind turbines should be designed and planned carefully to minimize these negative impacts. In addition, the case study demonstrated that the AHP was capable of addressing the complexities associated with the sustainability of coastal beaches.

Concepts: Assessment, Sustainability, Analytic Hierarchy Process, Renewable energy, Wind power, Wind farm, Wind turbine, Arithmetical hierarchy


India is the fifth largest primary energy consumer and fourth largest petroleum consumer after USA, China, and Japan. Despite the global economic crisis, India’s economy is expected to grow at 6 to 8 %/year. There is an extreme dependence on petroleum products with considerable risks and environmental issues. Petroleum-derived transport fuels are of limited availability and contribute to global warming, making renewable biofuel as the best alternative. The focus on biogas and biomass-based energy, such as bioethanol and biohydrogen, will enhance cost-effectiveness and provide an opportunity for the rural community. Among all energy sources, microalgae have received, so far, more attention due to their facile adaptability to grow in the photobioreactors or open ponds, high yields, and multiple applications. Microalgae can produce a substantial amount of triacylglycerols as a storage lipid under photooxidative stress or other adverse environmental conditions. In addition to renewable biofuels, they can provide different types of high-value bioproducts added to their advantages, such as higher photosynthetic efficiency, higher biomass production, and faster growth compared to any other energy crops. The viability of first-generation biofuels production is, however, questionable because of the conflict with food supply. In the future, biofuels should ideally create the environmental, economic, and social benefits to the communities and reflect energy efficiency so as to plan a road map for the industry to produce third-generation biofuels.

Concepts: Petroleum, Anaerobic digestion, Biogas, Biofuel, Renewable energy, Ethanol fuel, Biomass, Fuels


In times of dwindling fossil fuels it is particularly crucial to develop novel “green” technologies in order to cover the increasing worldwide demand for energy. Organic photovoltaic solar cells (OPVs) are promising as a renewable energy source due to low energy requirement for production, low resource extraction, and no emission of greenhouse gasses during use. In contrast to silicium-based solar cells, OPVs offer the advantages of light-weight, semi-transparency and mechanical flexibility. As to a possible forthcoming large-scale production, the environmental impact of such OPVs should be assessed and compared to currently best available technologies. For the first time, this review compiles the existing knowledge and identifies gaps regarding the environmental impact of such OPVs in a systematic manner. In this regard, we discuss the components of a typical OPV layer by layer. We discuss the probability of enhanced release of OPV-borne components into the environment during use-phase (e.g. UV- and biodegradation) and end-of-life phase (e.g. incineration and waste disposal). For this purpose, we compiled available data on bioavailability, bioaccumulation, biodegradation, and ecotoxicity. Whereas considerable research has already been carried out concerning the ecotoxicity of certain OPV components (e.g. nanoparticles and fullerenes), others have not been investigated at all so far. In conclusion, there is a general lack of information about fate, behavior as well as potential ecotoxicity of most of the main OPV components and their degradation/transformation products. So far, there is no evidence for a worrying threat coming from OPVs, but since at present, no policy and procedures regarding recycling of OPVs are in action, in particular improper disposal upon end-of-life might result in an adverse effect of OPVs in the environment when applied in large-scale.

Concepts: Energy, Environment, Solar cell, Photovoltaics, Fossil fuel, Renewable energy, Wind power, Hydroelectricity


Since the 1970s, installed solar photovoltaic capacity has grown tremendously to 230 gigawatt worldwide in 2015, with a growth rate between 1975 and 2015 of 45%. This rapid growth has led to concerns regarding the energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions of photovoltaics production. We present a review of 40 years of photovoltaics development, analysing the development of energy demand and greenhouse gas emissions associated with photovoltaics production. Here we show strong downward trends of environmental impact of photovoltaics production, following the experience curve law. For every doubling of installed photovoltaic capacity, energy use decreases by 13 and 12% and greenhouse gas footprints by 17 and 24%, for poly- and monocrystalline based photovoltaic systems, respectively. As a result, we show a break-even between the cumulative disadvantages and benefits of photovoltaics, for both energy use and greenhouse gas emissions, occurs between 1997 and 2018, depending on photovoltaic performance and model uncertainties.

Concepts: Solar cell, Photovoltaics, Natural gas, Renewable energy, Solar energy, Photovoltaic module, Greenhouse gas, World energy resources and consumption