Environmental impacts of future low-carbon electricity systems: Detailed life cycle assessment of a Danish case study

Roberto Turconi, Davide Tonini, Christian F.B. Nielsen, Christian G. Simonsen, Thomas Fruergaard Astrup

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


The need to reduce dependency on fossil resources and to decrease greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions is driving many countries towards the implementation of low-carbon electricity systems. In this study the environmental impact of a future (2030) possible low-carbon electricity system in Denmark was assessed and compared with the current situation (2010) and an alternative 2030 scenario using life cycle assessment (LCA). The influence on the final results of the modeling approach used for (i) electricity import, (ii) biomass resources, and (iii) the cogeneration of heat and power was discussed. The results showed that consumption of fossil resources and global warming impacts from the Danish electricity sector could be reduced significantly compared with 2010. Nevertheless, a reduction in GHG may be at the expense of other environmental impacts, such as the increased depletion of abiotic resources. Moreover, the results were very dependent upon biomass origin: when agricultural land was affected by biomass import, and land use changes and transportation were included, GHG emissions from imported biomass were comparable to those from fossil fuels. The results were significantly influenced by the modeling approach regarding the import of electricity, biomass provision, and the allocation between heat and power in cogeneration plants. As the importance of all three aspects is likely to increase in the future, transparency in LCA modeling is critical. Characterized impacts for Danish power plants in 2010 and 2030 (including corresponding electricity supply mixes) were provided, thus enabling future LCA studies to include appropriately impacts from the Danish electricity sector.
Original languageEnglish
JournalApplied Energy
Pages (from-to)66-73
Number of pages8
Publication statusPublished - 2014


  • Life cycle assessment (LCA)
  • Energy modeling
  • Future scenario
  • CHP
  • Renewable energy system
  • Biomass to energy


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