Toward a Sustainable Energy Future. This talk was given at a local TEDx event, produced independently of the TED Conferences. The term “sustainability” has become a popular catch phrase in recent years. Many recent definitions of sustainability emphasize the importance of meeting growing energy needs of both present and future generations while addressing social, environmental, economic and technological limitations. The electric power sector is the single largest consumer of primary energy in the United States, making the sustainability of the sector an essential component of national sustainability goals. Some researchers have compared technologies based on one measure of sustainability such as land or water use, emissions, or cost but very few have attempted to compare multiple electricity generating technologies across many criteria spanning the four main areas of sustainability. Multi-criteria decision analysis (MCDA) is a unique tool that allows multiple measures to be included and weighted and results in an overall ranking of technologies. This research uses MCDA to compare the sustainability of 13 commercially available electricity generating technologies in the United States using the criteria of job creation, the levelized cost of energy, greenhouse gas emissions, water consumption, land use, and capacity factor (the amount of electricity generated in a year divided by the maximum electricity that could be generated based on the facility rating). The resulting sustainability ranking is a helpful summary tool for analyzing the overall sustainability of electricity generating technologies which can be useful for policy making.
Stephanie graduated from Calvin College with a B.S. in Biology and a B.A. in Political Science and is now pursuing an M.S. in Ecology and Environmental Science at UMaine. She works as a research assistant, and her research focuses on energy policy, sustainable energy, and the use of interdisciplinary study to address society’s environmental issues.