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Title: Accounting for Human Health and Ecosystems Quality in Developing Sustainable Energy Products: The Implications of Wood Biomass-based Electricity Strategies to Climate Change Mitigation
Author: Weldu, Yemane W.
Advisor: Assefa, Getachew
Keywords: Environmental Sciences
Abstract: The prospect for transitions and transformations in the energy sector to mitigate climate change raises concerns that actions should not shift the impacts from one impact category to another, or from one sustainability domain to another. Although the development of renewables mostly results in low environmental impacts, energy strategies are complex and may result in the shifting of impacts. Strategies to climate change mitigation could have potentially large effects on human health and ecosystems. Exposure to air pollution claimed the lives of about seven million people worldwide in 2010, largely from the combustion of solid fuels. The degradation of ecosystem services is a significant barrier to achieving millennium development goals. This thesis quantifies the biomass resources potential for Alberta; presents a user-friendly and sector-specific framework for sustainability assessment; unlocks the information and policy barriers to biomass integration in energy strategy; introduces new perspectives to improve understanding of the life cycle human health and ecotoxicological effects of energy strategies; provides insight regarding the guiding measures that are required to ensure sustainable bioenergy production; validates the utility of the Environmental Life Cycle Cost framework for economic sustainability assessment; and provides policyrelevant societal cost estimates to demonstrate the importance of accounting for human health and ecosystem externalities in energy planning. Alberta is endowed with a wealth of forest and agricultural biomass resources, estimated at 458 PJ of energy. Biomass has the potential to avoid 11-15% of GHG emissions and substitute 14-17% of final energy demand by 2030. The drivers for integrating bioenergy sources into Alberta’s energy strategy are economic diversification, technological innovation, and resource conservation policy objectives. Bioenergy pathways significantly improved both human health and ecosystem quality from coal fuel. Bioenergy alternatives have higher economic cost than the prevailing scenario of coal-fired generation system. Although coal fuel is the most cost effective way of electricity generation, its combustion results in the loss of 123.5 billion USD per year for Alberta due to societal life cycle cost. This research demonstrated that bioenergy can support the transformation of a fossil-based energy system to a more sustainable power production system; however, respiratory effects is a concern.
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