Date: 27 Nov 2013

Life cycle inventories of electricity generation and power supply in version 3 of the ecoinvent database—part I: electricity generation

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Abstract

Purpose

Life cycle inventories (LCI) of electricity generation and supply are among the main determining factors regarding life cycle assessment (LCA) results. Therefore, consistency and representativeness of these data are crucial. The electricity sector has been updated and substantially extended for ecoinvent version 3 (v3). This article provides an overview of the electricity production datasets and insights into key aspects of these v3 inventories, highlights changes and describes new features.

Methods

Methods involved extraction of data and analysis from several publically accessible databases and statistics, as well as from the LCA literature. Depending on the power generation technology, either plant-specific or region-specific average data have been used for creating the new power generation inventories representing specific geographies. Whenever possible, the parent–child relationship was used between global and local activities. All datasets include a specific technology level in order to support marginal mixes used in the consequential version of ecoinvent. The use of parameters, variables and mathematical relations enhances transparency. The article focuses on documentation of LCI data on the unlinked unit process level and presents direct emission data of the electricity-generating activities.

Results and discussion

Datasets for electricity production in 71 geographic regions (geographies) covering 50 countries are available in ecoinvent v3. The number of geographies exceeds the number of countries due to partitioning of power generation in the USA and Canada into several regions. All important technologies representing fossil, renewable and nuclear power are modelled for all geographies. The new inventory data show significant geography-specific variations: thermal power plant efficiencies, direct air pollutant emissions as well as annual yields of photovoltaic and wind power plants will have significant impacts on cumulative inventories. In general, the power plants operating in the 18 newly implemented countries (compared to ecoinvent v2) are on a lower technology level with lower efficiencies and higher emissions. The importance of local datasets is once more highlighted.

Conclusions

Inventories for average technology-specific electricity production in all globally important economies are now available with geography-specific technology datasets. This improved coverage of power generation representing 83 % of global electricity production in 2008 will increase the quality of and reduce uncertainties in LCA studies worldwide and contribute to a more accurate estimation of environmental burdens from global production chains. Future work on LCI of electricity production should focus on updates of the fuel chain and infrastructure datasets, on including new technologies as well as on refining of the local data.

Responsible editor: Niels Jungbluth