A review of life cycle assessments on wind energy systems

  • Simon Davidsson
  • Mikael Höök
  • Göran Wall



Several life cycle assessments (LCAs) of wind energy published in recent years are reviewed to identify methodological differences and underlying assumptions.


A full comparative analysis of 12 studies were undertaken (ten peer-reviewed papers, one conference paper, and one industry report) regarding six fundamental factors (methods used, energy use accounting, quantification of energy production, energy performance and primary energy, natural resources, and recycling). Each factor is discussed in detail to highlight strengths and shortcomings of various approaches.


Several potential issues are found concerning the way LCA methods are used for assessing energy performance and environmental impact of wind energy, as well as dealing with natural resource use and depletion. The potential to evaluate natural resource use and depletion impacts from wind energy appears to be poorly exploited or elaborated on in the reviewed studies. Estimations of energy performance and environmental impacts are critically analyzed and found to differ significantly.

Conclusions and recommendations

A continued discussion and development of LCA methodology for wind energy and other energy resources are encouraged. Efforts should be made to standardize methods and calculations. Inconsistent use of terminology and concepts among the analyzed studies are found and should be remedied. Different methods are generally used and the results are presented in diverse ways, making it difficult to compare studies with each other, but also with other renewable energy sources.


Energy accounting Life cycle assessment Natural resource use Primary energy conversion Wind energy Wind power 



Energy payback time


Energy return on (energy) investment




Life cycle assessment


Life cycle inventory


Life cycle impact assessment


Life cycle sustainability analysis


Process chain analysis


Primary energy return on (energy) investment


Primary energy payback time


Rare earth elements



We would like to thank two anonymous reviewers for helpful comments. Ehri Gbegbaje-Das from PE International and Peter Garrett and Klaus Rønde from VESTAS have our gratitude for providing assistance and clarifications regarding the Vestas LCA study. This study has been supported by the STandUP for energy collaboration initiative.


  1. Ardente F et al (2008) Energy performances and life cycle assessment of an Italian wind farm. Renew Sustain Energy Rev 12(1):200–217CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Atherton J (2006) Declaration by the metals industry on recycling principles. Int J Life Cycle Assess 12(1):59–60Google Scholar
  3. Baumann H, Tillman AM (2004) The Hitch Hiker’s guide to LCA. Studentlitteratur, LundGoogle Scholar
  4. Biggs S (2011) Rare earths leave toxic trail to Toyota Prius, Vestas turbines. Bloomberg. Web article. Accessed 18 May 2011
  5. Blanco MI (2009) The economics of wind energy. Renew Sustain Energy Rev 13(6–7):1372–1382CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. British Geological Survey (2010) Rare earth elements—mineral profile. June 2010. See also:
  7. Castor SB (2008) Rare earth deposits of North America. Resour Geol 58(4):337–347CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Chen Z (2011) Global rare earth resources and scenarios of future rare earth industry. J Rare Earth 29(1):1–6CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Crawford RH (2009) Life cycle energy and greenhouse emissions analysis of wind turbines and the effect of size on energy yield. Renew Sustain Energy Rev 13(9):2653–2660CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Ekvall T, Weidema BP (2004) System boundaries and input data in consequential life cycle inventory analysis. Int J Life Cycle Assess 9(3):161–171CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. ESTP (2009) Steel – a key partner in the European low‐carbon economy of tomorrow. European Steel Technology Platform (ESTP)Google Scholar
  12. Finnveden G (2005) The resource debate needs to continue. Int J Life Cycle Assess 10(5):372CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Finnveden G et al (2009) Recent developments in life cycle assessment. J Environ Manag 91(1):1–21CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Guezuraga B, Zauner R, Pölz W (2012) Life cycle assessment of two different 2 MW class wind turbines. Renew Energy 37(1):37–44CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Guinée JB (2001) Life cycle assessment—an operational guide to the ISO-standards. Center of Environmental Science—Leiden University (CML)Google Scholar
  16. Guinée JB, Heijungs R, Huppes G, Zaagmo A, Masoni P, Buonamici R, Ekvall T, Rydberg T (2011) Life cycle assessment: past, present, and future. Environ Sci Technol 45(1):90–96CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Haxel GB, Hedrick JB, Orris GJ (2002) Rare earth elements—critical resources for high technology. US Geological Survey Fact Sheet 087-02. See also:
  18. Hendrickson C et al (1997) Comparing two life cycle assessment approaches: a process model- vs. economic input–output-based approach. IEEE Int Symp Electron Environ, San Francisco, CAGoogle Scholar
  19. Höök M, Li J, Johansson K, Snowden S (2012) Growth rates of global energy systems and future outlooks. Nat Resour Res. doi: 10.1007/s11053-011-9162-0
  20. IPCC (2011) Full report. In: Edenhofer O, Pichs-Madruga R, Sokona Y, Seyboth K, Matschoss P, Kadner S, Zwickel T, Eickemeier P, Hansen G, Schlömer S, von Stechow C (eds) IPCC special report on renewable energy sources and climate change mitigation. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  21. Jacobson MZ, Delucchi MA (2011) Providing all global energy with wind, water, and solar power, part I: technologies, energy resources, quantities and areas of infrastructure, and materials. Energ Pol 39:1164–1169CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Kaiser MJ, Snyder B (2012) Offshore wind decommissioning regulations and workflows in the Outer Continental Shelf United States. Mar Policy 36(1):113–121CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Kanawaza Y, Kamitani M (2006) Rare earth minerals and resources in the world. J Alloy Comp 408–412:1339–1343CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Kleijn R, van der Voet E (2010) Resource constraints in a hydrogen economy based on renewable energy sources: an exploration. Renew Sustain Energy Rev 14:2784–2795CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Kubiszewski I et al (2010) Meta-analysis of net energy return for wind power systems. Renew Energy 35(1):218–225CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Lee YM, Tzeng YE (2008) Development and life-cycle inventory analysis of wind energy in Taiwan. J Energ Eng 134(2):53–57CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Lee YM, Tzeng, YE, Su CL (2006) Life cycle assessment of wind power utilization in Taiwan. The 7th International Conference on Eco Balance, November 14–16, 2006, Tsukuba, JapanGoogle Scholar
  28. Lenzen M, Munksgaard J (2002) Energy and CO2 life cycle analyses of wind turbines—review and applications. Renew Energy 26(3):339–362CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Long KR, Van Gosen BS, Foley NK, Cordier D (2010) The principal rare earth elements deposits of the United States—a summary of domestic deposits and a global perspective. US Geological Survey Scientific Investigations, report 2010–5220, 96 p. See also:
  30. Martinez E et al (2009a) Life cycle assessment of multi-megawatt wind turbine. Renew Energy 34(3):667–673CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Martinez E et al (2009b) Life-cycle assessment of a 2-MW rated power wind turbine: CML method. Int J Life Cycle Assess 14(1):52–63CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Martinez E et al. (2010) Environmental impact of modern wind power under LCA methodology. In: Muyeen SM (ed) Wind power. ISBN: 978-953-7619-81-7, InTech. Available from:
  33. Mortimer ND (1991) Energy analysis of renewable energy sources. Energ Pol 19(4):374–385CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Moss RL, Tzimas E, Kara H, Willis P, Kooroshy J (2011) Critical metals in strategic energy technologies—assessing rare metals as supply-chain bottlenecks in low-carbon energy technologies. Joint Research Centre of the European Commission scientific and technical report. See also:
  35. Pasqualetti MJ, Gipe P, Righter RW (2002) Wind power in view: energy landscapes in a crowded world. Academic, New York, p 234Google Scholar
  36. Renewables International (2011) Neodymium a bone of contention in wind turbines. News article from 25 May 2011. See also:
  37. Schleisner L (2000) Life cycle assessment of a wind farm and related externalities. Renew Energy 20(3):279–288CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Stewart B, Weidema B (2005) A consistent framework for assessing the impacts from resource use—a focus on resource functionality. Int J Life Cycle Assess 10(4):240–247CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Tremeac B, Meunier F (2009) Life cycle analysis of 4.5 MW and 250 W wind turbines. Renew Sustain Energy Rev 13(8):2104–2110CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Tse PK (2011) China’s rare-earth industry. US Geological Survey Open-File Report 2011–1042, 11 p. See also:
  41. US Department of Energy (2010) Critical materials strategy. Report the role of rare earth metals and other materials in the clean energy economy. December 2010, see also:
  42. Valenzuela J, Wang J (2011) A probabilistic model for assessing the long-term economics of wind energy. Electr Power Syst Res 81(4):853–861CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Vestas (2011) Life cycle assessment of electricity production from a Vestas V112 turbine wind plant, final report. PE North West Europe ApS. See also:
  44. Wall G (2011) Life cycle exergy analysis of renewable energy systems. Open Renew Energy J 4(1):1–6CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Weidema BP (2000) Increasing credibility of LCA. Int J Life Cycle Assess 5(2):63–64. doi: 10.1007/BF02979718 Google Scholar
  46. Weinzettel J et al (2009) Life cycle assessment of a floating offshore wind turbine. Renew Energy 34(3):742–747CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Welch JB, Venkateswaran A (2009) The dual sustainability of wind energy. Renew Sustain Energy Rev 13(5):1121–1126CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. White SW (2006) Net energy payback and CO2 emissions from three Midwestern wind farms: an update. Nat Resour Res 15(4):271–281CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. WWEA (2010) World wind energy report 2009. World Wind Energy Association, BonnGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Global Energy Systems, Department of Physics and AstronomyUppsala UniversityUppsalaSweden
  2. 2.Global Energy Systems, Department of Earth SciencesUppsala UniversityUppsalaSweden
  3. 3.MölndalSweden

Personalised recommendations