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Long-term opportunities for electricity production through municipal solid waste incineration when internalising external costs

Istrate, Ioan-Robert, García-Gusano, Diego, Iribarren, Diego, Dufour, Javier
Journal of cleaner production 2019 v.215 pp. 870-877
decision making, electricity generation, fossil fuels, landfills, life cycle assessment, models, municipal solid waste, planning, power generation, waste incineration, Europe
A further deployment of waste-to-energy incineration facilities (WtE plants) is expected in Europe in order to abate the use of landfills for municipal solid waste. Besides being a straightforward solution for this waste management purpose, WtE plants contribute to reducing the dependence on fossil fuels for electricity production. In this sense, this article follows a combined Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) and Energy Systems Modelling (ESM) approach to prospectively assess the potential role of a national power generation system as a driving force for the promotion of WtE plants when internalising external costs. Since the internalisation of external costs for sustainability-oriented, long-term energy planning typically involves a life-cycle perspective, emphasis is laid on the controversial choice of a method to allocate the life-cycle environmental burdens of WtE plants between their waste management and power generation functions. A high penetration of WtE plants (up to 10% of the total electricity production) is found only when the waste management service is assumed to bear all burdens. On the contrary, a negligible contribution of WtE plants to the prospective electricity production mix is found when the burdens are completely or partly allocated to the power generation function. Hence, under a (sensible) balanced approach of shared burdens, the power generation system is concluded not to be a driving force for the increased role of WtE plants. Furthermore, the need for policy-makers (or other relevant decision-makers) to set the allocation method in LCA of WtE plants is stressed.