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Comparing power generation options: study highlights hydropower’s place in the energy mix

A Canadian study based on life-cycle assessments sheds light on how different power generation options and electricity mixes compare in terms of their greenhouse gas footprint and environmental impact.

GHG comparison studyThe study, commissioned by public utility Hydro-Québec, was conducted by the  International Reference Centre for the Life Cycle of Products, Processes and Services (CIRAIG). The centre is renowned for its expertise in life-cycle assessments, which determine and quantify the environmental impacts of a product, process or service over its entire life cycle.

You can find a summary of the report’s key findings here, and the full report Comparaison des filières de production d’électricité et des bouquets d’énergie électrique (in French) here.

The findings suggest that the greenhouse gas emission rate of hydropower is similar to that of nuclear or wind power, and significantly lower than other power generation options; five times lower than solar photovoltaic energy, 50 times lower than a gas-fired thermal plant, and 70 times lower than a coal-fired thermal plant.

GHG comparison of generation options

Hydropower is also identified as the generation option with the smallest environmental impact across several indicators, including climate change, ozone layer depletion, petrochemical oxidation, acidification, eutrophication and human toxicity. Thermal generation using non-renewable sources showed the worst results on environmental impact, due to the extraction, transformation and use of fuels.

The study also shows how the combined electricity mix in different countries and provinces compares in terms of climate change, human health and ecosystem quality.

Countries and provinces with a high proportion of hydropower in the electricity mix, such as Norway, which has the highest hydropower generation intensity per capita in the world, were among those shown to have the lowest greenhouse gas emission rate. 

You can find out more about the study here.