Real-time environmental assessment of electricity use: a tool for sustainable demand-side management programs



Demand-side management is a promising way to increase the integration of renewable energy sources by adapting part of the demand to balance power systems. However, the main challenges of evaluating the environmental performances of such programs are the temporal variation of electricity generation and the distinction between generation and electricity use by including imports and exports in real-time.


In this paper, we assessed the environmental impacts of electricity use in France by developing consumption factors based on historical hourly data of imports, exports, and electricity generation of France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, Belgium, and Spain. We applied a life cycle approach with four environmental indicators: climate change, human health, ecosystem quality, and resources. The developed dynamic consumption factors were used to assess the environmental performances of demand-side management programs through optimized changes in consumption patterns defined by the flexibility of 1 kWh every day in 2012–2014.

Results and discussion

Between 2012 and 2014, dynamic consumption factors in France were higher on average than generation factors by 21.8% for the climate change indicator. Moreover, the dynamic consideration of electricity generation of exporting countries is essential to avoid underestimating the impacts of electricity imports and therefore electricity use. The demand response programs showed a range of mitigation up to 38.5% for the climate change indicator. In addition, an environmental optimization cost 1.4 € per kg CO2 eq. for 12% mitigation of emissions as compared to an economic optimization. Finally, embedding the costs of some environmental impacts in the electricity price with a carbon price enhanced the efficiency of economic demand response strategies on the GHG emissions mitigation.


The main scientific contribution of this paper is the development of more accurate dynamic electricity consumption factors. The dynamic consumption factors are relevant in LCAs of industrial processes or operational building phases, especially when consumption varies over time and when the power system participates in a wide market with exports and imports such as in France. In the case of demand-side management programs, dynamic consumption factors could prevent an environmentally damaging energy from being imported, despite the economic interest of system operators. However, the approach used in this study was attributional and did not assess the local grid responses of load shifting programs. Therefore, a more comprehensive model could be created to assess the local short-term dynamic consequences of located prospective consumptions and the global long-term consequences of demand-side management programs.

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The authors thank NSERC, Ericsson, and Varitron Technologies for funding the project CRDPJ 46997

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Correspondence to Alexandre Milovanoff.

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Milovanoff, A., Dandres, T., Gaudreault, C. et al. Real-time environmental assessment of electricity use: a tool for sustainable demand-side management programs. Int J Life Cycle Assess 23, 1981–1994 (2018).

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  • Demand-side management
  • Dynamic inventory
  • Electricity generation
  • Emission factors
  • Greenhouse gas emissions
  • Life cycle assessment (LCA)