Coal with Carbon Capture and Sequestration is not as Land Use Efficient as Solar Photovoltaic Technology for Climate Neutral Electricity Production
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Avoiding climate destabilization caused by greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, requires climate-neutral electricity sources. It has been proposed that the GHG emissions from coal-fired power plants can be offset by carbon capture and sequestration or bio-sequestration. However, solar photovoltaic (PV) technology has recently declined so far in costs it now offers both technical and economic potential to offset all of coal-fired electricity use. PV only emits GHGs during fabrication and not during use. To determine which technical solution to climate-neutral electricity generation should be preferred, this study aggregates and synthesizes life cycle analysis studies for exergy, GHG emissions and land transformation for climate-neutral electricity. The results show that because of lower exergy efficiencies coal plants emit 13–18 times more GHG and transform 5–13 times more land than PV. Optimal bio-sequestration of coal-fired GHG requires 62% of U.S. arable land or 89% of all U.S land with average forest cover. Carbon capture and storage and enhanced oil recovery can improve coal performance, but for all cases the results clearly show that PV is a far more effective use of land. Overall, for the first time this study found climate-neutral photovoltaic farms are a preferred solution to climate-neutral coal fired electricity generation.