Balancing safety with sustainability: assessing the risk of accidents for modern low-carbon energy systems

Sovacool, Benjamin K, Andersen, Rasmus, Sorensen, Steven, Sorensen, Kenneth, Tienda, Victor, Vainorius, Arturas, Schirach, Oliver Marc and Bjørn-Thygesen, Frans (2016) Balancing safety with sustainability: assessing the risk of accidents for modern low-carbon energy systems. Journal of Cleaner Production, 112 (5). pp. 3952-3965. ISSN 0959-6526

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Abstract

This study assesses the risk of energy accidents—their frequency over time, severity in terms of fatalities, and scope in terms of property damage—among a suite of low-carbon energy systems. Using an original historical database of energy accidents over the period 1950–2014, it comparatively assesses energy accident risk across biofuels, biomass, geothermal, hydroelectricity, hydrogen, nuclear power, solar energy, and wind energy. Our study shows how these energy systems collectively involved 686 accidents resulting in 182,794 human fatalities and $265.1 billion in property damages. Across the entire sample, the mean amount of property damage was $388.8 million and 267.2 fatalities per accident, though when reflected as a median the numbers substantially improve to $820,000 in damages per accident and zero fatalities. Wind energy is the most frequent to incur an accident within our sample (48.8 percent of accidents), hydroelectric accidents tend to be the most fatal (97.2 percent of all deaths), and nuclear energy accidents tend to be the most expensive (accounting for 90.8 percent of damages). The article uses this data to present a set of unique risk profiles: nuclear, hydro, and wind energy are categorized as having a “high” risk of accidents; hydrogen, biofuels, and biomass “moderate” a accident risk; solar and geothermal a “low” risk.

Item Type: Article
Schools and Departments: School of Business, Management and Economics > SPRU - Science Policy Research Unit
Depositing User: Benjamin Sovacool
Date Deposited: 10 Mar 2016 14:37
Last Modified: 06 Jun 2016 10:13
URI: http://sro.sussex.ac.uk/id/eprint/59972
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