Influence of substance coverage on impacts from the electricity sector

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference abstract in proceedings – Annual report year: 2018Researchpeer-review


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The electricity sector is a major source of emissions of greenhouse gas, but also heavy metals, dioxins or radioactive isotopes. However, most environmental assessments of the electricity sector at national or global scale focus solely on
climate change and do not include other environmental impact categories such as particulate matter formation or toxic impacts on human health. At the national scale, the few available databases are limited to a narrow substance coverage. For example, official reports of pollutants emissions to the European Monitoring and Evaluation Programme (EMEP) should cover 23 substances in 51 countries, but they are not always complete. The Multi-Regional Input-Output database
EXIOBASE includes environmental extensions emitted to air in 44 countries and 5 regions but only for 33 substances. In comparison, the database Ecoinvent provides emission data for hundreds of substances in the unit process inventories for electricity and heat generation. Here, we aim to to develop a globally consistent and extensive dataset of airborne emissions from electricity production to get a more realistic coverage of toxicity impacts in large-scale life cycle assessments (LCAs). We thus built the Ecoinvent-based National Energy-related Emission Inventory (ENEEI) by upscaling processes from Ecoinvent 3.3 with national production volumes of electricity and complementing it with emission data from external sources. The resulting inventory ENEEI covers 229 substances, including 51 radioactive isotopes. By comparing inventories and databases at midpoint level, we show that LCAs using Ecoinvent may underestimate the toxicity impacts associated with electricity production by a factor ranging from 1.4 to 1.9, while Exiobase may cut them off by up to 4 orders of magnitude in some countries. This demonstrates the importance of having an extensive substance coverage to fully represent the environmental impacts of electricity production.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationProceedings of the SETAC Europe: 28th Annual Meeting
Publication date2018
Publication statusPublished - 2018
EventSETAC Europe 28th Annual Meeting - Rome, Italy
Duration: 13 May 201817 May 2018


ConferenceSETAC Europe 28th Annual Meeting

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