Uncertainties related to the identification of the marginal energy technology in consequential life cycle assessments

B.V. Mathiesen, Marie Münster, Thilde Fruergaard

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When performing life cycle assessment (LCA) assumptions regarding the energy use are often decisive for the outcome. In this paper, current approaches of identifying marginal electricity and heat technologies for consequential LCAs are challenged. The identification of marginal energy technologies is examined from three angles: The marginal electricity technology is identified in Danish historical and potential future energy systems. The methods of identifying and using marginal electricity and heat technologies in key LCA studies are analysed. Finally, the differences in applying energy system analysis and assuming one marginal technology are illustrated, using waste incineration with energy substitution as a case. The main problem with the current approach is the use of one single marginal technology. It is recommended to use fundamentally different affected technologies and identify these in several possible and fundamentally different future scenarios. If possible, the affected technologies should also be identified based on energy system analyses considering the technical characteristics of the technologies involved. Some results in this paper may be applicable to other affected technologies than energy.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Cleaner Production
Issue number15
Pages (from-to)1331-1338
Publication statusPublished - 2009


  • Climate and energy systems
  • Energy systems analysis

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