Water and carbon footprint reduction potential of renewable energy in the United States: A policy analysis using system dynamics

Carolina Kelly, Nuri Cihat Onat, Omer Tataria (2019). “Water and carbon footprint reduction potential of renewable energy in the United States: A policy analysis using system dynamics.” Journal of Cleaner Production 25 April 2019. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jclepro.2019.04.268

Abstract: Renewable energy has gained popularity as an alternative to fossil fuels, which regularly emit large amounts of Greenhouse Gases and consume/withdraw large amounts of water, but renewable energy market penetration is still limited while fossil fuels are still the U.S.‘s dominant power source. This is due to resistance in the market, or in this case, the failure of renewable energy policies to achieve long-term environmental sustainability due to neglected external factors (economic, societal, etc.). No available literature analyzes potential sources and/or effects of this policy resistance, so this research investigates the underlying mechanisms in the renewable energy generation market by utilizing a system dynamics model.

A two-alternative Generalized Bass Model was developed to simulate the renewable energy market (specifically with respect to solar PV and wind energy), including the environmental, societal, and economic concerns associated with each of the alternatives evaluated in this study, so as to identify and address possible causes of policy resistance and its subsequent effects on environmental impacts (esp. GHG emissions and water withdrawal rates). Based on this model, three separate policy areas (solar PV investments, wind power investments, and the elimination of fossil fuel subsidies) and various combinations thereof were proposed and tested within the context of the model.

Based on the results of this study, it is highly recommended to invest as generously as possible into multiple renewable energy industries, reduce fossil fuel subsidies (in turn freeing up funding for renewable energy investments), and seek further advancement in renewable energy technologies (e.g. enhancing the useable lifetimes of wind turbines). A balanced policy have potential to increase the share of renewable’s up to roughly 40% in the U.S. by 2050, as well as 17% and 32% GHG and water withdrawal reduction potential by 2050.

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