Life cycle assessment of onshore and offshore wind energy - from theory to application

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    This study aims to assess the environmental impacts related to the provision of 1 kWh to the grid from wind power in Europe and to suggest how life cycle assessment can inform technology development and system planning. Four representative power plants onshore (with 2.3 and 3.2 MW turbines) and offshore (4.0 and 6.0 MW turbines) with 2015 state-of-the-art technology data provided by Siemens Wind Power were assessed. The energy payback time was found to be less than 1 year for all technologies. The emissions of greenhouse gases amounted to less than 7 g CO2-eq/kWh for onshore and 11 g CO2-eq/kWh for offshore. Climate change impacts were found to be a good indicator for overall hotspot identification however attention should also be drawn to human toxicity and impacts from respiratory inorganics. The overall higher impact of offshore plants, compared to onshore ones, is mainly due to larger high impact material requirements for capital infrastructure. In both markets the bigger turbines with more advanced direct drive generator technology is shown to perform better than the smaller geared ones. Capital infrastructure is the most impactful life cycle stage across impacts. It accounts for more than 79% and 70% of climate change impacts onshore and offshore respectively. The end-of-life treatment could lead to significant savings due to recycling, ca. 20-30% for climate change. In the manufacturing stage the impacts due to operations at the case company do not exceed 1% of the total life cycle impacts. This finding highlights the shared responsibility across multiple stakeholders and calls for collaborative efforts for comprehensive environmental management across organizations in the value chain. Real life examples are given in order to showcase how LCA results can inform decisions, e.g. for concept and product development and supply chain management. On a systems level the results can be used by energy planners when comparing with alternative energy sources. (C) 2016 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
    Original languageEnglish
    JournalApplied Energy
    Pages (from-to)327-337
    Number of pages11
    Publication statusPublished - 2016


    • Energy payback time
    • Sustainability
    • Wind energy
    • Wind power plant
    • Wind turbine
    • Carbon dioxide
    • Digital storage
    • Environmental impact
    • Environmental management
    • Environmental technology
    • Greenhouse gases
    • Life cycle
    • Supply chain management
    • Sustainable development
    • Wind power
    • Wind turbines
    • Alternative energy source
    • Direct drive generators
    • End of life treatments
    • Energy pay back time
    • Life Cycle Assessment (LCA)
    • Shared responsibility
    • State-of-the-art technology
    • Technology development
    • Climate change
    • Wind power plants
    • Environmental factors
    • Power system management, operation and economics
    • Power system planning and layout
    • air pollution
    • carbon compounds
    • climate mitigation
    • environmental management
    • offshore installations
    • power generation planning
    • power grids
    • wind power plants
    • wind turbines
    • onshore wind energy
    • offshore wind energy
    • environmental impacts
    • life cycle assessment
    • LCA
    • system planning
    • power plants
    • Siemens Wind Power
    • energy payback time
    • greenhouse gases
    • climate change impacts
    • human toxicity
    • respiratory inorganics


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