What is it about?

Planetary boundaries (PBs) are the global limits that keep the Earth’s life support system stable. Recognised as essential components of sustainability, their violation or transgression can be devastating for our planet. Unfortunately, the current energy system models (ESMs) that determine power sector optimisation as a crucial element of sustainability do not integrate PBs in their design modules. This study evaluated the energy sector developments or solutions of ‘ERCOM-PB’ (Emissions Reduction Cooperation Model with Planetary Boundaries), a previously designed ESM for the United States that now included the PBs, using three ‘energy mixes’, S1 (Business as usual), S2 (Paris Agreement) and S3 (PBs). The authors found that the S2 mix was the most cost-effective. Moreover, the S3 mix, which included hydropower, wind energy, and bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS), was the most likely to reduce PBs transgression but at a greater expense.

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Why is it important?

Apparently, the power sector is often challenged by poor strategic policies since the current ESMs focus on cost reduction and show a clear disregard for PBs. This article suggests that including PBs in ESMs will link energy production technologies to their environmental impact and can improve the sustainability framework. However, the authors speculate that PB-associated expenses might demand future investments. Thus, it is critical to investigate how these costs might be reduced. Downscaling PBs to countries and sectors with appropriate share allocation is one possible solution. Although the study was aimed at a cumulative reduction of all known nine PBs, the authors were unable to find any one solution that could satisfy all PBs simultaneously. Key takeaway Designing effective sustainability solutions requires a widespread integration of PBs in energy systems. This could lead to better policy-making and reduce the likelihood of climate goals becoming increasingly ambiguous.

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This page is a summary of: Powering sustainable development within planetary boundaries, Energy & Environmental Science, January 2019, Royal Society of Chemistry, DOI: 10.1039/c8ee03423k.
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