The Interdependence of Energy and Sustainability

  • Natanael Favero Bolson

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


The increasing frequency of extreme weather events is a consequence of changing climate. The direct physical causes are carbon dioxide emissions from the intensive use of fossil fuels and accelerated soil and plant decomposition from alterations in land use. Efforts to avoid a global environmental calamity and engineer a shift towards a more sustainable path are at the forefront of global agenda. However, beyond all the commitments and good intentions, there is no consensus on what constitutes sustainability, the requirements for a power transition towards a post-carbon era, or the energy resources available to achieve economic goals. This dissertation aims to clarify the relationship between energy and sustainability. We begin with a review of capacity factors for the leading power technologies at a global and regional scale to understand performance of these technologies and their potential. To address the challenge of evaluating sustainability, we propose a new approach, the eight-dimensional sustainability octagon. This approach broadens the fundamental pillars of sustainability (social, environmental, and economic), and provides a simple yet robust tool for comparing the sustainability of countries on the Earth. This analysis shows that the world is performing at one-third of achievable sustainability levels. Afterwards, we assess current global energy mix from a primary power perspective and estimate energy savings from- and limitations of electrification. We evaluate the power requirements, nominal power to be installed, infrastructure needs, and carbon dioxide emissions associated with replacing current fossil electricity generation mix with renewables. This evaluation indicates that complete decarbonization of the global power mix is impossible by 2050, and electrification could further delay decarbonization. At a single country level (case study), we analyze connections between the ongoing energy-environmental crisis and population growth to assess the feasibility of achieving the government of Rwanda’s developmental goals, given available power resources. We evaluate Lake Kivu in Rwanda as a complex methane source and energy system. We assess the implicit risks and environmental impacts of large-scale methane production to generate electricity. From our analysis, Rwanda is overpopulated, and the available energy resources can only secure low incomes for the population.
Date of AwardNov 2021
Original languageEnglish (US)
Awarding Institution
  • Physical Sciences and Engineering
SupervisorTadeusz Patzek (Supervisor)


  • Energy
  • Sustainable Development
  • Capacity Factor
  • Energy Transition
  • Renewable Energy
  • Sustainability

Cite this