Issue 6, 2019

Powering sustainable development within planetary boundaries


The concept of planetary boundaries identifies a safe space for humanity. Current energy systems are primarily designed with a focus on total cost minimization and bounds on greenhouse gas emissions. Omitting planetary boundaries in energy systems design can lead to energy mixes unable to power our sustainable development. To overcome this conceptual limitation, we here incorporate planetary boundaries into energy systems models, explicitly linking energy generation with the Earth's ecological limits. Taking the United States as a testbed, we found that the least cost energy mix that would meet the Paris Agreement 2 degrees Celsius target still transgresses five out of eight planetary boundaries. It is possible to meet seven out of eight planetary boundaries concurrently by incurring a doubling of the cost compared to the least cost energy mix solution (1.3% of the United States gross domestic product in 2017). Due to the stringent downscaled planetary boundary on biogeochemical nitrogen flow, there is no energy mix in the United States capable of satisfying all planetary boundaries concurrently. Our work highlights the importance of considering planetary boundaries in energy systems design and paves the way for further research on how to effectively accomplish such integration in energy related studies.

Graphical abstract: Powering sustainable development within planetary boundaries

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Article type
21 Nov 2018
21 Jan 2019
First published
24 Jan 2019
This article is Open Access
Creative Commons BY license

Energy Environ. Sci., 2019,12, 1890-1900

Powering sustainable development within planetary boundaries

I. M. Algunaibet, C. Pozo, Á. Galán-Martín, M. A. J. Huijbregts, N. Mac Dowell and G. Guillén-Gosálbez, Energy Environ. Sci., 2019, 12, 1890 DOI: 10.1039/C8EE03423K

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