Life cycle assessment demonstrates environmental co-benefits and trade-offs of low-carbon electricity supply options
Journal article, Peer reviewed
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Original versionRenewable & Sustainable Energy Reviews. 2017, 76 1283-1290. 10.1016/j.rser.2017.03.078
The targeted transition towards an electricity system with low or even negative greenhouse gas emissions affords a chance to address other environmental concerns as well, but may potentially have to adjust to the limited availability of assorted non-fossil resources. Life cycle assessment (LCA) is widely recognized as a method appropriate to assess and compare product systems taking into account a wide range of environmental impacts. Yet, LCA could not inform the latest assessment of co-benefits and trade-offs of climate change mitigation by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change due to the lack of comparative assessments of different electricity generation technologies addressing a wide range of environmental impacts and using a consistent set of methods. This paper contributes to filling this gap. A consistent set of life cycle inventories of a wide range of electricity generation technologies is assessed using the Recipe midpoint methods. The life-cycle inventory modeling addresses the production and deployment of the technologies in nine different regions. The analysis shows that even though low-carbon power requires a larger amount of metals than conventional fossil power, renewable and nuclear power leads to a reduction of a wide range of environmental impacts, while CO2 capture and storage leads to increased non-GHG impacts. Biomass has relatively modest co-benefits, if at all. The manufacturing of low-carbon technologies is important compared to their operation, indicating that it is important to choose the most desirable technologies from the outset.