The energy policy of many Western governments aims to diversify supply and reduce dependence on foreign sources and thus to maximise benefits from internal resources. Undoubtedly, the main strategy underlying this is one that seeks to optimise the use of renewable energy sources (RES). The development of these sources, as well as their market penetration, depends however not only on political will but also on sound management of energy demand in order to rationalise and stabilise energy consumption. In addition to fortifying the guaranteed energy supply, RES represent a potential that cannot be overlooked. This lies in their ability to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and thus to stem the growing trend of global warming, one which has accelerated particularly in recent years and which is due mainly to the use of fossil fuels for producing electricity. The use of RES for the production of electric power brings huge benefits both in terms of environmental protection as well as savings in non-renewable resources. Nevertheless, the very nature of RES raise technical and economic problems that create a considerable gap between their potential capacity and ways to feasibly exploit them. Their many different forms and the ways in which they may be used have to be carefully examined in order to evaluate the costs and other technical and environmental factors involved. The planning and appraisal of sustainable energy projects involve rather complex tasks. This is due to the fact that the decision making process is the closing link in the process of analysing and handling different types of information: environmental, technical economic and social. Such information can play a strategic role in steering the decision maker towards one choice instead of another. Some of these variables (technical and economic) can be handled fairly easily by numerical models whilst others, particularly ones relating to environmental impacts, may only be adjudicated qualitatively. In many cases therefore, traditional evaluation methods and the chief economic and financial indicators are unable to deal with all the components involved in an environmentally valid energy project. Multi-criteria methods provide a flexible tool that is able to handle and bring together a wide range of variables appraised in different ways and thus offer valid assistance to the decision maker in mapping out the problem. This manuscripts sets out the application of a multi-criteria method to make a preliminary assessment of technologies. As this work demonstrates, multi-criteria analysis can provide a technical-scientific decision making support tool that is able to justify its choices clearly and consistently, especially in the renewable energy sector.
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