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NEEDS — Result In Brief

Project ID: 502687
Funded under: FP6-SUSTDEV
Country: Italy

Unmasking energy costs and benefits

A European consortium performed a multi-criteria analysis of the external effects of energy technologies on the environment and society.
Unmasking energy costs and benefits
Over the years, many efforts have been made to estimate a monetary value of the energy impact on environment, society and economy. Also known as externalities, these effects – positive or negative – exist if no compensation or financial gain is given to the third party. Determining the externalities for emerging energy technologies is important for environmental policymaking, investment decisions and taxation, alongside raising awareness among stakeholders.

The project ‘New energy externalities development for sustainability’ (NEEDS) was funded under the EU's Sixth Framework Programme (FP6) for sustainable energy systems. Its ultimate objective was to evaluate the direct and external costs and benefits of energy policies and of future energy systems, both for individual countries and for the EU as a whole. More specifically, the project aimed to advance the current state of knowledge in terms of life-cycle assessment (LCA) of energy technologies, and valuation of externalities associated with energy production, transport, conversion and use.

Quantitative risk indicators for severe energy-associated accident risks were estimated for a set of technologies in year 2050 based on PSI's severe accident database ENSAD (Energy-related severe accident database). The ENSAD database facilitated comprehensive analyses of accident risks that were not limited to power plants but covered full energy chains. The consortium proposed a preliminary full set of criteria and indicators, covering economy, environment and social aspects.

To address the impact of severe accidents in the ecosystem, the project used environmental indicators such as large accidental spills of hydrocarbons to the environment and contamination by radioactive isotopes. In terms of social impact, project partners used mortality and maximum number of fatalities to assess the severity of an electricity-related accident. The results demonstrated that fatality rates were lowest for nuclear energy, intermediate for new renewables and highest for fossil technologies, whereas for maximum consequences nuclear and new renewables were reversed, while fossil technologies remained intermediate. Additional social indicators were used to estimate the risk of terrorism and its effects on a specific technology.

The NEEDS project accident risk indicators and multi-criteria analysis (MCA) – combined with stakeholder preferences – led to valuable insights and conclusions regarding the assessment and ranking of electricity generation technologies. Implementation of the project outputs will contribute to increasing awareness, acceptability and actual use of externality data to formulate policies regarding new energy technologies.

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