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Holistic energy system modeling combining multi-objective optimization and life cycle assessment

Rauner, Sebastian; Budzinski, Maik

Making the global energy system more sustainable has emerged as a major societal concern and policy objective. This transition comes with various challenges and opportunities for a sustainable evolution affecting most of the UN's Sustainable Development Goals. We therefore propose broadening the current metrics for sustainability in the energy system modeling field by using industrial ecology techniques to account for a conclusive set of indicators. This is pursued by including a life cycle based sustainability assessment into an energy system model considering all relevant products and processes of the global supply chain. We identify three pronounced features: (i) the low-hanging fruit of impact mitigation requiring manageable economic effort; (ii) embodied emissions of renewables cause increasing spatial redistribution of impact from direct emissions, the place of burning fuel, to indirect emissions, the location of the energy infrastructure production; (iii) certain impact categories, in which more overall sustainable systems perform worse than the cost minimal system, require a closer look. In essence, this study makes the case for future energy system modeling to include the increasingly important global supply chain and broaden the metrics of sustainability further than cost and climate change relevant emissions.
Published in: Environmental Research Letters, 10.1088/1748-9326/aa914d, IOP