The importance of considering resource availability restrictions in energy planning: What is the footprint of electricity generation in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA)?

Sci Total Environ. 2020 May 15;717:135035. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2019.135035. Epub 2019 Nov 3.

Abstract

Global warming urges governments to decarbonise their energy portfolios. Many governments have indistinctly transited away from fossil fuels towards renewable energies. However, a sustainable turnaround calls for limiting the overall impact of this transition on environmental resources and the economy. This study identifies the most desirable energy alternatives for the Middle Eastern and North African (MENA) countries based on their environmental and economic footprints using the Relative Aggregate Footprint (RAF) indicator. The RAFs of eleven widespread electricity generation technologies are computed for each country by considering the availability of four resources - energy, water, land, and the economy - which were weighted according to the national resource availability conditions. The results indicate that the MENA region must adapt their electricity mix to mitigate the impacts of climate change with respect to resource availability conditions, especially their scarce water resources. Due to the specificities of this region, deploying biomass and large-scale hydropower may lower greenhouse gases but significantly alter the impact on other valuable natural resources. Therefore, wind, geothermal, and nuclear power plants seem more desirable for a transition away from carbon-intensive technologies while their secondary effects on other resources (e.g. nuclear energy's possible water and environmental impacts) must be carefully considered.

Keywords: Climate change; Energy sustainability; MENA; Nexus; Relative aggregate footprint.