Evaluation of life cycle impacts of European electricity generation in relation to the Planetary Boundaries

Liv K. Stranddorf*, Julie Clavreul, Anne Prieur-Vernat, Morten W. Ryberg

*Corresponding author for this work

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The Planetary Boundaries framework was developed to control the anthropogenic pressure on the Earth system and delimit a safe operating space for humanity. Within the European Union (EU), the energy sector is the most emitting sector. Many studies have investigated life cycle impacts of electricity generation, but assessments of the life cycle impacts of electricity generation in relation to the planetary boundaries are currently limited. Here, we evaluate the life cycle impacts of electricity generation in the EU-28 and relate these impacts to the planetary boundaries. Moreover, we include an assessment of impacts on the planetary boundary biosphere integrity, which has often been omitted due to its complexity and inadequate basis for quantification. Three scenarios (Base, Green, and NZE) for the period 2020–2050 are considered, and two different sharing principles are applied for assigning a share of the safe operating space to the considered system. We found that neither of the three scenarios can be considered within the boundaries of the assigned safe operating space using either of the sharing principles. All three scenarios comply with an equal number of boundaries defined by SoSOS 1 in year 2050 (7 out of 15 boundaries), but in relation to the boundaries defined by SoSOS 2 the Green scenario performs best, complying with 13 out of 15 boundaries. The good performance of the Green scenario in 2050 is especially due to the large share of renewable energy sources (74 %) and nuclear (21 %), and because of the inclusion of BECCS, giving negative impacts on climate change. The results of the study indicate a need for a drastic change in the electricity mix of the EU-28 towards a larger share of renewable energies and emphasize the importance of considering all planetary boundaries to avoid burden shifting and to obtain absolute environmental sustainability for EU-28 electricity generation.
Original languageEnglish
JournalSustainable Production and Consumption
Pages (from-to)414-424
Number of pages11
Publication statusPublished - 2023


  • Electricity production
  • Life cycle assessment
  • Planetary Boundaries
  • Absolute environmental sustainability assessment
  • Biosphere integrity


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