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Systems issues in renewable energy

Research and development into renewable energy technologies — such as photovoltaic cells and biofuels — has increased dramatically in recent years. While research at the technology level continues to expand it is also important to consider systems issues such as unforeseen environmental impacts and the potential of technological progress to reduce costs and mitigate environmental impacts.

In this MIT Energy Club talk — taking place from noon to 1 p.m. on Friday, July 16, in 56-114 — two approaches are introduced and applied to address these questions.

Life Cycle Assessment can model multiple environmental effects of the entire supply chain associated with energy technologies. Results are presented from a recent study of life cycle water use of alternative energy sources. Exploring technological dynamics, results are presented of a study of trends in life cycle carbon emissions of silicon photovoltaic modules. Experience curves and analysis of thermodynamics can be combined to provide insight into the long-term potential of renewable energy technologies to realize cost and environmental goals. Results are presented of a forecast of economic investments needed to bring the price of silicon photovoltaic modules to $1/peak-Watt.

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