Renewable energy emissions: what greenhouse gases do Australia’s renewables create?


Renewable energy has a low carbon footprint. In Australia, the shift towards renewable energy sources such as solar, wind, and hydroelectric power is a major part of the emissions reduction strategy. The lifecycle emissions of renewables, including manufacturing, installation, operation, and decommissioning, are far lower than those of coal, oil, and natural gas.

Studies show that renewable energy systems can reduce emissions by up to 90-99% compared to conventional fossil fuels. The production, installation, and decommissioning processes do entail some greenhouse gas emissions. The ongoing operation of renewable energy sources produces negligible greenhouse gas emissions.

Here's a look at how Australia's renewables contribute to greenhouse gas outputs.

Solar power

Solar power emits greenhouse gases due to the energy used in production, which is often sourced from non-renewable energy. But once installed, solar panels produce electricity with no direct emissions for their 25+ year lifespan.

Wind energy

Emissions from wind energy are primarily associated with the manufacturing and installation of wind turbines. The production of steel and concrete for turbines and the energy used in these processes contribute to GHG emissions, but these are relatively minor when amortised over the turbines' operational life.

Hydro

Hydroelectric power is considered a clean energy source, yet the construction of dams and reservoirs can lead to emissions. These come from the decomposition of organic material in flooded areas and the concrete used in construction. Despite this, hydroelectric facilities have long lifespans and generate large amounts of electricity with minimal ongoing emissions.

Bioenergy

Bioenergy, which includes biomass and biogas, can produce emissions through the combustion process used to generate energy. However, these are partially offset by the carbon uptake of the biomass feedstock during its growth phase, making it a more sustainable option than fossil fuels.

Geothermal energy

Geothermal energy has one of the lowest emissions profiles among renewables. Primary emissions stem from the construction of power plants and gases that may be released from the earth during energy extraction.

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