How can we best achieve sustainable energy for everyone?

We want sustainable power but that will take some very long-term planning and there is no single solution, which can be applied to every region around the globe. Our latest blog post is from Maral Mahlooji a doctoral researcher from the Centre for Environmental Policy working with Dr Kaveh Madani. Her research attempts to inform the decisions we make now so we can achieve a low-carbon energy future without costing the earth.

Maral Mahlooji
Maral Mahlooji

The most recent International Energy Agency’s World Energy Outlook report identifies energy security and climate change as our biggest global concerns. It emphasises the importance of addressing reliability and sustainability of energy resources and our management approaches. My research aims to solve this by developing a holistic view of the problem, taking into account as the affordability, availability, and environmental impacts of energy technologies.

The aim of my study is to inform how we meet our energy needs while preventing negative effects on the environment and society. The results should allow us to make recommendations on the appropriate energy technologies to use in different countries and regions.

The transition to alternative resources is inevitable due to dwindling availability of conventional resources and the need to lower our greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. There is also the geopolitical instabilities that affect the global supply and competitiveness of oil.

niagara-193822Many governments have already implemented policies to try and increase the share of renewable energies and decrease the reliance on fossil fuels. I am developing strategies to help support the next generation of policy decisions. My frameworks will allow people to understand the impact of various technologies on their natural resources and plan the future of their energy supply accordingly.

My work looks at the sustainability of renewable energies and compares them to conventional energy sources using a wide range of criteria. Through understanding the role, and impact, of renewable and non-renewable energy sources on things like land use, water resources and society and this will help the ease shift from fossil fuels to cleaner energy sources.

My approach is to look at the trade-offs between cost, carbon footprint, water use and land use through, what is known as, a high-level system of systems (SoS) perspective, at a global scale. This allows me to evaluate various energy technologies in many areas not just cost or GHG emissions. Previous research and even my early work has demonstrated that renewable energy alternatives are not without their drawbacks and limitations. When water consumption and land usage are considered, certain renewable energy sources become unfeasibly inefficient and unreliable in comparison to some traditional resources.

What is key is that my approach can be customised by country or regions to create an optimal energy source portfolio for the needs and constraints in that area. This makes it easier for each country to address global warming, maintain their energy security and reduce the unintended consequences and impacts on their valued natural resources.

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The next step in my research is to expand various aspects. On the technical side I will increase the sustainability criteria and constraints while including more energy technologies to be considered for each case. On the social side my work will start to encompass the political restraints, technical feasibilities, and societal impacts of portfolios in each region.

Ultimately I hope that my research will help decision makers to develop policies and strategies to promote and utilise sustainable technologies. If they can see the far-reaching consequences of their decisions beyond the cost to the exchequer they can analyse the risks and develop a unique and truly sustainable energy portfolio for their country.

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