What are the safest and cleanest sources of energy? (2023)

  • ​​Pierre Friedlingstein, Matthew W. Jones, Michael O’Sullivan, Robbie M. Andrew, Dorothee, C. E. Bakker, Judith Hauck, Corinne Le Quéré, Glen P. Peters, Wouter Peters, Julia Pongratz, Stephen Sitch, Josep G. Canadell, Philippe Ciais, Rob B. Jackson, Simone R. Alin, Peter Anthoni, Nicholas R. Bates, Meike Becker, Nicolas Bellouin, Laurent Bopp, Thi Tuyet Trang Chau, Frédéric Chevallier, Louise P. Chini, Margot Cronin, Kim I. Currie, Bertrand Decharme, Laique M. Djeutchouang, Xinyu Dou, Wiley Evans, Richard A. Feely, Liang Feng, Thomas Gasser, Dennis Gilfillan, Thanos Gkritzalis, Giacomo Grassi, Luke Gregor, Nicolas Gruber, Özgür Gürses, Ian Harris, Richard A. Houghton, George C. Hurtt, Yosuke Iida, Tatiana Ilyina, Ingrid T. Luijkx, Atul Jain, Steve D. Jones, Etsushi Kato, Daniel Kennedy, Kees Klein Goldewijk, Jürgen Knauer, Jan Ivar Korsbakken, Arne Körtzinger, Peter Landschützer, Siv K. Lauvset, Nathalie Lefèvre, Sebastian Lienert, Junjie Liu, Gregg Marland, Patrick C. McGuire, Joe R. Melton, David R. Munro, Julia E.M.S Nabel Shin-Ichiro Nakaoka, Yosuke Niwa, Tsuneo Ono, Denis Pierrot, Benjamin Poulter, Gregor Rehder, Laure Resplandy, Eddy Robertson, Christian Rödenbeck, Thais M Rosan, Jörg Schwinger, Clemens Schwingshackl, Roland Séférian, Adrienne J. Sutton, Colm Sweeney, Toste Tanhua, Pieter P Tans, Hanqin Tian, Bronte Tilbrook, Francesco Tubiello, Guido van der Werf, Nicolas Vuichard, Chisato Wada Rik Wanninkhof, Andrew J. Watson, David Willis, Andrew J. Wiltshire, Wenping Yuan, Chao Yue, Xu Yue, Sönke Zaehle, Jiye Zeng. Global Carbon Budget 2021, Earth Syst. Sci. Data, 2021.

  • Per capita electricity consumption in the EU-27 in 2021 was around 6,400 kWh.

    1 terawatt-hour is equal to 1,000,000,000 kilowatt-hours. So, we get this figure by dividing 1,000,000,000 by 6,400 ≈ 150,000 people.

  • The following sources were used to calculate these death rates.

    Fossil fuels and biomass: these figures are taken directly from Markandya, A., & Wilkinson, P. (2007). Electricity generation and health. The Lancet, 370(9591), 979-990.

    Nuclear: I have calculated these figures based on the assumption of 433 deaths from Chernobyl and 2314 from Fukushima. These figures are based on the most recent estimates from UNSCEAR and the Government of Japan. In a related article, I detail where these figures come from.

    I have calculated death rates by dividing this figure by cumulative global electricity production from nuclear from 1965 to 2021, which is 96,876 TWh.

    Hydropower: The paper by Sovacool et al. (2016) provides a death rate for hydropower from 1990 to 2013. However, this period excludes some very large hydropower accidents which occurred prior to 1990. I have therefore calculated a death rate for hydropower from 1965 to 2021 based on the list of hydropower accidents provided in Sovacool et al. (2016), which extends back to the 1950s. Since this database ends in 2013, I have also included the Saddle Dam accident in Laos in 2018, which killed 71 people.

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    The total number of deaths from hydropower accidents from 1965 to 2021 was approximately 176,000. 171,000 of these deaths were from the Banqian Dam Failure in China in 1975.

    I have calculated death rates by dividing this figure by cumulative global electricity production from hydropower from 1965 to 2021, which is 138,175 TWh.

    Solar and wind: these figures are taken directly from: Sovacool, B. K., Andersen, R., Sorensen, S., Sorensen, K., Tienda, V., Vainorius, A., … & Bjørn-Thygesen, F. (2016). Balancing safety with sustainability: assessing the risk of accidents for modern low-carbon energy systems. Journal of Cleaner Production, 112, 3952-3965. In this analysis the authors compiled a database of as many energy-related accidents as possible based on an extensive search of academic databases and news reports, and derived death rates for each source over the period from 1990 to 2013. Since this database has not been extended since then, it’s not possible to provide post-2013 death rates.

  • UNSCEAR (2008). Sources and effects of Ionizing Radiation. UNSCEAR 2008 Report to the General Assembly with Scientific Annexes. Available online.

    Report of the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation. General Assembly Official Records, Sixty-eighth session, Supplement No. 46. New York: United Nations, Sixtieth session, May 27–31, 2013.

  • Schlömer S., T. Bruckner, L. Fulton, E. Hertwich, A. McKinnon, D. Perczyk, J. Roy, R. Schaeffer, R. Sims, P. Smith, and R. Wiser, 2014: Annex III: Technology-specific cost and performance parameters. In: Climate Change 2014: Mitigation of Climate Change. Contribution of Working Group III to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [Edenhofer, O., R. Pichs-Madruga, Y. Sokona, E. Farahani, S. Kadner, K. Seyboth, A. Adler, I. Baum, S. Brunner, P. Eickemeier, B. Kriemann, J. Savolainen, S. Schlömer, C. von Stechow, T. Zwickel and J.C. Minx (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA.

    The IPCC AR5 report was published in 2014, and relies on studies conducted several years prior to its publication. For technologies which have been developing rapidly – namely solar, wind and other renewables, production technologies and intensities have changed significantly since then, and will continue to change as energy systems decarbonize. Life-cycle figures for nuclear, solar, wind and hydropower have therefore been adopted by the more recent publication by Pehl et al. (2017), published in Nature Energy.

    Pehl, M., Arvesen, A., Humpenöder, F., Popp, A., Hertwich, E. G., & Luderer, G. (2017). Understanding future emissions from low-carbon power systems by integration of life-cycle assessment and integrated energy modelling. Nature Energy, 2(12), 939-945.

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    The Carbon Brief provides a clear discussion of the significance of these more recent lifecycle analyses in detail here.

    Since oil is conventionally not used for electricity production, it is not included in the IPCC’s reported figures per kilowatt-hour. Figures for oil have therefore been taken from Turconi et al. (2013). It reports emissions in kilograms of CO2eq per megawatt-hour. Emissions factors for all other technologies are consistent with results from the IPCC. The range it gives for oil is 530–900: I have here taken the midpoint estimate (715 kgCO2eq/MWh, which is also 715 gCO2eq/kWh).

    Turconi, R., Boldrin, A., & Astrup, T. (2013). Life cycle assessment (LCA) of electricity generation technologies: Overview, comparability and limitations. Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, 28, 555-565.

  • Burgherr, P., & Hirschberg, S. (2014). Comparative risk assessment of severe accidents in the energy sector. Energy Policy, 74, S45-S56.

    McCombie, C., & Jefferson, M. (2016). Renewable and nuclear electricity: Comparison of environmental impacts. Energy Policy, 96, 758-769.

    Hirschberg, S., Bauer, C., Burgherr, P., Cazzoli, E., Heck, T., Spada, M., & Treyer, K. (2016). Health effects of technologies for power generation: Contributions from normal operation, severe accidents and terrorist threat. Reliability Engineering & System Safety, 145, 373-387.

    Luderer, G., Pehl, M., Arvesen, A., Gibon, T., Bodirsky, B. L., de Boer, H. S., … & Mima, S. (2019). Environmental co-benefits and adverse side-effects of alternative power sector decarbonization strategies. Nature Communications, 10(1), 1-13.

    Hertwich, E. G., Gibon, T., Bouman, E. A., Arvesen, A., Suh, S., Heath, G. A., … & Shi, L. (2015). Integrated life-cycle assessment of electricity-supply scenarios confirms global environmental benefit of low-carbon technologies. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 112(20), 6277-6282.

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  • Pollutant controls in advanced economies such as the US and Europe are advanced, and have been in place for many decades. Controls tend to be lower in middle-to-low-income countries.

    Wang, S., Yu, C., & Hao, J. (2011). Control of NOx emissions from power plants: Experiences of United States and its implications for China. Chinese Journal of Environmental Engineering, 5(6), 1213-1220.

    However many have made significant progress in recent years. This paper details the progress made in China.

    Wang, G., Deng, J., Zhang, Y., Zhang, Q., Duan, L., Hao, J., & Jiang, J. (2020). Air pollutant emissions from coal-fired power plants in China over the past two decades. Science of the Total Environment, 741, 140326.

  • Xie, L., Huang, Y., & Qin, P. (2018). Spatial distribution of coal-fired power plants in China. Environment and Development Economics, 23(4), 495-515.

  • Coal: 24.62 deaths per TWh * 10,042 TWh = 247,000 deaths

    Oil: 18.43 deaths per TWh * 852 TWh = 16,000 deaths

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    Gas: 2.82 deaths per TWh * 6,098 TWh = 17,000 deaths.

    This sums to a total of 280,000 people.

  • Lelieveld, J., Klingmüller, K., Pozzer, A., Burnett, R. T., Haines, A., & Ramanathan, V. (2019). Effects of fossil fuel and total anthropogenic emission removal on public health and climate. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 116(15), 7192-7197.

  • Vohra, K., Vodonos, A., Schwartz, J., Marais, E. A., Sulprizio, M. P., & Mickley, L. J. (2021). Global mortality from outdoor fine particle pollution generated by fossil fuel combustion: Results from GEOS-Chem. Environmental Research, 195, 110754.

  • Chowdhury, S., Pozzer, A., Haines, A., Klingmueller, K., Münzel, T., Paasonen, P., … & Lelieveld, J. (2022). Global health burden of ambient PM2.5 and the contribution of anthropogenic black carbon and organic aerosols. Environment International, 159, 107020.

  • Leliveld et al. (2019) estimate that 8.8 million people die from all sources of air pollution each year. If we multiply this figure by 12%, we get 1.1 million people.

    Vohra et al. (2021) estimate that the death toll is 2.4 times higher than Leliveld et al. (2019). This would give a figure of 2.55 million deaths [1.1 million * 2.4]

  • UNECE (2021). Lifecycle Assessment of Electricity Generation Options. United Nations Economic Commission for Europe.

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  • All visualizations, data, and code produced by Our World in Data are completely open access under the Creative Commons BY license. You have the permission to use, distribute, and reproduce these in any medium, provided the source and authors are credited.

    The data produced by third parties and made available by Our World in Data is subject to the license terms from the original third-party authors. We will always indicate the original source of the data in our documentation, so you should always check the license of any such third-party data before use and redistribution.

    FAQs

    What is the cleanest source of energy? ›

    Nuclear is a zero-emission clean energy source. It generates power through fission, which is the process of splitting uranium atoms to produce energy. The heat released by fission is used to create steam that spins a turbine to generate electricity without the harmful byproducts emitted by fossil fuels.

    What is the safest energy source in the world? ›

    nuclear energy is by far the safest energy source. It has more than 330 times fewer deaths than coal; 250 times less than oil; and 38 times fewer than gas.

    What is the best and cleanest energy source? ›

    Wind comes out on top by a wide margin over all the other sources. It is followed in order by geothermal, hydro, nuclear and solar.

    What are the 3 cleanest energy sources? ›

    Clean energy is defined as energy created without the combustion of coal, petroleum, or petroleum products, without nuclear fission, and without the conversion of municipal waste. The three main sources of clean energy are wind energy, solar energy, and hydroelectric energy.

    Is Nuclear safer than solar? ›

    Nuclear is safer based upon actual deaths per terawatt hour and less polluting. Solar needs to use ten times the steel and concrete. Steel and concrete need polluting industrial processes to make. Solar uses twenty times the land.

    What is the cheapest and cleanest energy source? ›

    What is the cheapest renewable energy source? Hydroelectric power is currently the cheapest renewable energy source, costing $0.05 per kilowatt-hour on average. Hydroelectric power is the cheapest because the infrastructure has been in place for a long time, and it produces electricity consistently.

    What is the #1 source of energy for the Earth? ›

    One of the most important sources of energy is the sun. The energy of the sun is the original source of most of the energy found on earth. We get solar heat energy from the sun, and sunlight can also be used to produce electricity from solar (photovoltaic) cells.

    What is the #1 source of energy? ›

    Energy Sources in the United States

    Natural gas: 31.8% Petroleum (crude oil and natural gas plant liquids): 28% Coal: 17.8% Renewable energy: 12.7%

    What is the most environmentally friendly form of energy? ›

    Renewable energy sources such as wind, hydroelectric power, solar, and geothermal energy are generally far more sustainable than fossil fuel sources. However, some renewable energy projects, such as the clearing of forests to produce biofuels, can cause severe environmental damage.

    What is the most promising clean energy? ›

    Green Hydrogen

    Hydrogen gas has the highest energy density of all fuels and produces near-zero greenhouse gas emissions (GHG). However, most hydrogen is derived from non-renewable sources in the form of grey and brown hydrogen.

    Which energy is the cleanest and causes the least pollution? ›

    Solar energy does not cause air pollution, water pollution, or greenhouse gases. It causes the least environmental problems in the process of its harnessing and utilisation. It is the ultimate source of energy.

    Which energy source does not harm the environment? ›

    Electricity from renewable resources such as solar, geothermal, and wind generally does not contribute to climate change or local air pollution since no fuels are combusted.

    What is the safest form of power generation? ›

    One might think it's a green form of energy such as solar, wind, or hydro. This study suggests something different. Sources: WHO, CDC, National Academy of Science. According to the study, nuclear power is by far safest power source in the world -- 40% less deadly than the next safest, wind.

    Why doesn't the US use nuclear power? ›

    Nuclear power plants are massive investments. Not only do they cost over $10 billion, they often take between eight and 12 years to build. That's without factoring in delays and budget overruns, which are common.

    Is there a better alternative to nuclear energy? ›

    Solar power is abundant, inexhaustible, and arguably the best known of the alternative energy sources. The most common method of harnessing this energy is through the use of solar panels that convert sunlight to electricity that is then distributed to the end-user.

    Is there a completely clean energy source? ›

    Out of all energy resources, we consider green power (solar, wind, biomass and geothermal) as the cleanest form of energy. So, if we were looking at clean energy on a spectrum, these would be farthest from “dirty” or emissions-heavy energy.

    Is there such a thing as clean energy? ›

    Clean energy is energy that comes from renewable, zero emission sources that do not pollute the atmosphere when used, as well as energy saved by energy efficiency measures. There is a degree of crossover between clean energy and green or renewable energy sources, but they are not exactly the same.

    What are the two biggest energy issues currently faced by humans? ›

    The world faces two energy problems: most of our energy production still produces greenhouse gas emissions, and hundreds of millions lack access to energy entirely.

    What are the top 5 energy sources? ›

    Top 5 Sources of Energy in the US | Natural Gas | Petroleum | Coal | Nuclear | Renewable.

    What are earths 2 main energy sources? ›

    Two sources provide more than 99 percent of the power for our civilization: solar and nuclear. Every other significant energy source is a form of one of these two. Most are forms of solar.

    What are the 7 main sources of energy? ›

    Following are the examples of sources of energy:
    • Biofuel energy.
    • Hydropower.
    • Geothermal energy.
    • Solar energy.
    • Nuclear energy.
    • Tidal energy.
    • Wind energy.

    Why don't we use renewable energy sources? ›

    It all comes down to cost and infrastructure. Ultimately, the biggest hindrance to the development of renewable energy is its cost and logistical barriers. Once the infrastructure for renewable energy sources grows, we will see it take off in popularity and use.

    What consumes the most energy? ›

    Here's what uses the most energy in your home:
    • Cooling and heating: 47% of energy use.
    • Water heater: 14% of energy use.
    • Washer and dryer: 13% of energy use.
    • Lighting: 12% of energy use.
    • Refrigerator: 4% of energy use.
    • Electric oven: 3-4% of energy use.
    • TV, DVD, cable box: 3% of energy use.
    • Dishwasher: 2% of energy use.
    1 May 2020

    What is the greenest way to generate electricity? ›

    Solar energy is 100% green and doesn't release any carbon dioxide or greenhouse gases. Typically, a domestic solar PV system could save you between 1.3 – 1.6 tonnes of carbon per year (depending on where you live in the UK). Solar energy can also save you money.

    What is the greenest renewable energy source? ›

    What Is the Best Renewable Energy Source?
    • Wind. The largest source of sustainable energy in the United States, wind power is responsible for about 8.4 percent of all energy sources generated in the country. ...
    • Sun. ...
    • Water. ...
    • Garbage. ...
    • Conclusion.
    10 May 2021

    Does Bill Gates invest in clean energy? ›

    The bottom line: Gates advocates for a layered approach that continues to invest in clean energy at the private and public levels, while also increasing funding toward resiliency measures to address the current effects of climate change.

    What stock should I buy for clean energy? ›

    An easier approach: ESG funds
    • Brookfield Renewable Partners L.P. (BEP)
    • Algonquin Power & Utilities Corp. (AQN)
    • NextEra Energy Partners, LP (NEP)
    • Clearway Energy Inc. (CWEN)
    • Atlantica Sustainable Infrastructure PLC (AY)
    • Ormat Technologies, Inc. (ORA)
    7 days ago

    Which energy is the best for the future? ›

    Atomic energy, solar energy, and energy from wind and bio fuels are just a few of the promising alternatives for a cleaner and greener future. Other relatively new sources of energy such as fuel cells, geothermal energy, and ocean energy are also being explored.

    What is the cleanest fuel to burn? ›

    When natural gas is burned, it produces mostly carbon dioxide and water vapor -- the same substances emitted when humans exhale. Compared with some other fossil fuels, natural gas emits the least amount of carbon dioxide into the air when combusted -- making natural gas the cleanest burning fossil fuel of all.

    What is the best kind of energy? ›

    Nuclear Power is the Most Reliable Energy Source and It's Not Even Close | Department of Energy.

    What energy source is pollution free? ›

    Solar energy, wind energy are renewable sources of energy and do not produce pollution.

    Which energy source has the least negative impact? ›

    Nuclear energy has one of the lowest environmental impacts of all energy sources, comparable with the total impacts of wind and solar. It doesn't emit air pollution, it safely keeps its waste out of the environment and it requires a very small amount of land.

    What energy Cannot be destroyed? ›

    The law of conservation of energy states that energy can neither be created nor destroyed - only converted from one form of energy to another. This means that a system always has the same amount of energy, unless it's added from the outside.

    What is the number 1 source of energy? ›

    Fossil fuels are the largest sources of energy for electricity generation.

    Is electricity the cleanest energy? ›

    Although electricity is a clean and relatively safe form of energy when it is used, the generation and transmission of electricity affects the environment. Nearly all types of electric power plants have an effect on the environment, but some power plants have larger effects than others.

    Can we have 100% clean energy? ›

    Research into this topic is fairly new, with very few studies published before 2009, but has gained increasing attention in recent years. The majority of studies show that a global transition to 100% renewable energy across all sectors – power, heat, transport and desalination – is feasible and economically viable.

    What is the best energy source for the environment? ›

    Nuclear and renewables are far, far safer than fossil fuels. Before we consider the long-term impacts of climate change, let's look at how each source stacks up in terms of short-term health risks.

    What is the main 90% source of energy? ›

    These include coal, petroleum, natural gas and nuclear energy. Oil is the most widely used source of energy. Coal, petroleum and natural gas account for about 90% of world's production of commercial energy and hydroelectric and nuclear power account for about 10%.

    What provides 80% of the worlds energy? ›

    Fossil fuels—including coal, oil, and natural gas—have been powering economies for over 150 years, and currently supply about 80 percent of the world's energy. Fossil fuels formed millions of years ago from the carbon-rich remains of animals and plants, as they decomposed and were compressed and heated underground.

    What are the 2 most important energy sources? ›

    Two sources provide more than 99 percent of the power for our civilization: solar and nuclear. Every other significant energy source is a form of one of these two. Most are forms of solar.

    Can any source of energy be pollution free? ›

    No source of energy can be pollution-free. Every source of energy has some type of pollution. For example, the wastes of nuclear reaction are very dangerous to the environment.

    Is there any truly clean energy? ›

    Out of all energy resources, we consider green power (solar, wind, biomass and geothermal) as the cleanest form of energy. So, if we were looking at clean energy on a spectrum, these would be farthest from “dirty” or emissions-heavy energy.

    What is the greenest form of energy? ›

    Currently, wind farms are seen as the most efficient source of green energy as it requires less refining and processing than the production of, for example, solar panels.
    ...
    Which Type Is The Most Efficient?
    • Wind Power.
    • Geothermal.
    • Hydropower.
    • Nuclear.
    • Solar Power.

    Is there a clean energy? ›

    Clean energy works by producing power without having negative environmental impacts, such as the release of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide. A lot of clean energy is also renewable, including wind power, some hydro resources and solar powered energy generation.

    What is the unlimited energy for all life on earth? ›

    Answer and Explanation: In all living organisms, the ultimate source of energy is the Sun.

    Can there be free energy? ›

    No machine can create energy out of nothing, as this would violate the law of mass-energy conservation, which is fundamental and universal. The law of mass-energy conservation states that mass-energy can never be created or destroyed.

    Is there an endless supply of energy on earth? ›

    A major advantage to using solar energy is that it is a renewable resource. We will have a steady, limitless supply of sunlight for another 5 billion years. In one hour, the Earth's atmosphere receives enough sunlight to power the electricity needs of every human being on Earth for a year. Solar energy is clean.

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