Energy and Environment Initiative

Mission

To Study the Environmental Effects of Current and Future Energy Resources

Introduction

Limited supplies of fossil energy, as well as concerns about energy security and the climate impact of greenhouse gases are driving the development of future energy portfolios. Some possible options are based on fossil fuels, including development of previously untapped sources such as tar sands, and expansion of offshore drilling and natural gas extraction. Others are intended to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions using carbon sequestration at coal-fired power plants, and through expansion of renewable energy sources including wind, solar, biomass, hydroelectric, tidal and geothermal energy.

All these future energy options, renewable or fossil fuel based, impact the environment. For example, reductions in greenhouse gas emissions have been achieved by the increased penetration of renewables and, potentially, natural gas into the US electricity market. Energy development can also have negative impacts, such as the short and long-term effects of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico on air and food resources. Yet the full suite of implications for air, water, land and ecosystem resources associated with different energy options have not been comprehensively assessed and are not entirely understood. 

Environmental scientists have an important role to play in the assessment of future energy options by providing the information necessary to characterize the environmental effects of both current and emerging energy sources. A close collaboration between energy researchers and environmental scientists warrants that energy sources are not only technologically feasible and economically viable, and that the impacts to air, water, and land resources are fully understood.

Goals

This CIRES Initiative engages researchers in the study of the environmental effects of present and future energy solutions. CIRES is uniquely positioned for this research as CIRES research covers most of the affected environments (air quality, climate, cryosphere, ecosystems, meteorology, oceans, soils, solid earth, water resources). Further CIRES researchers have studied the environmental effects of existing energy sources for years; to extend this work to future energy solutions is a natural progression that ties into CIRES’ strengths.

More information on the history and evolution of the CIRES Energy & Environment Initiative can be found here.