Edited by Hugh Dyer and Maria Julia Trombetta
Chapter 16: Environmental implications of energy production
The assessment of the environmental implications of energy production is a wide and complex challenge. Many energy sources and technologies exist with very different environmental profiles and implications in the form of emissions to the environment, hazardous wastes, occupational risks, production of noise or visual intrusion or risks of accidents, etc. All of them impose risks on human beings, ecosystems and materials, producing damages that are external in the sense that they are not taken into account by the person or institution causing the effects. Such effects, known as externalities, are then not incorporated in the market price of the energy products they generate. The presence of externalities in the energy market is a market failure that results in the energy mix being inefficient from a social point of view. When investment or operation decisions are made, e.g. about which power plant technology to use or where to locate a power plant, it would be beneficial for society to take environmental and health impacts into account and include the external effects into the decision making process. Quantifying these implications in a comparable manner would help energy policy makers in finding the energy mix which maximizes social welfare. In order to be able to assess and compare the external effects with each other and with private costs, it is convenient to express them in a common unit such as a monetary unit.
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