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Powering a Sustainable and Circular Economy—An Engineering Approach to Estimating Renewable Energy Potentials within Earth System Boundaries

Type of publication Peer-reviewed
Publikationsform Original article (peer-reviewed)
Author Desing Harald, WidmerRolf, Beloin-Saint-PierreDidier, HischierRoland, WägerPatrick,
Project Laboratory for Applied Circular Economy (LACE)
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Original article (peer-reviewed)

Journal Energies
Page(s) 4723
Title of proceedings Energies
DOI 10.3390/en12244723

Open Access

Type of Open Access Publisher (Gold Open Access)


This study proposes a method to estimate the appropriability of renewable energy resources at the global scale, when Earth system boundaries/needs and the human demand for chemical energy are respected. The method is based on an engineering approach, i.e., uncertainties of parameters and models are considered and potentials calculated with 99% confidence. We used literature data to test our method and provide initial results for global appropriable technical potentials (ATP) that sum up to 71TW , which is significantly larger than the current global energy demand. Consequently, there is sufficient renewable energy potentially available to increase energy access for a growing world population as well as for a development towards increasingly closed material cycles within the technosphere. Solar energy collected on the built environment ( 29% ) and in desert areas ( 69% ) represent the dominant part of this potential, followed in great distance by hydro ( 0.6% ), terrestrial heat ( 0.4% ), wind ( 0.35% ), and biomass ( 0.2% ). Furthermore, we propose indicators to evaluate an energy mix on different levels, from an energy mix in single products to the mix used by the global economy, against the estimated RE potentials, which allow an evaluation and consideration in the design of sustainable–circular products and systems.