A review of life cycle assessments on wind energy systems
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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.
KeywordsEnergy 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.
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