ETC/CME Report 4/2020: A life cycle perspective on the benefits of renewable electricity generation

16 Dec 2020

In this report, the benefits of the use of RES to produce electricity are investigated from a life cycle perspective. Six different impact indicators for the production of electricity are estimated for all Member States in the period 2005 to 2018 for a total of sixteen different renewable and non-RES. Results show variability in impact intensities across Member States and years, depending among others on fuel conversion efficiency (for electricity produced using combustion processes) and capacity utilization (for electricity producing from non-combustion processes, such as wind power). Finally, an estimate is given on gross avoided impact by comparing historic values to a counterfactual scenario where the level of electricity production from RES is frozen at 2005 level. Results show that the increased use of photovoltaic and wind power have contributed significantly to gross avoided impacts across the investigated impact indicators. A trade-off is that the increased use of PV appears to have increased potential ecotoxicity related impacts of the European electricity production system. The increased use of solid biomass for the generation of electricity and heat generally has a positive effect on avoided impacts, at the cost of increased potential land occupation. Overall, these finding can aid policy makers and private actors direct efforts towards specific areas which offer opportunities to decrease the impacts.

Prepared by: Evert A. Bouman (Norwegian Institute for Air Research – NILU)

Published by: ETC/CME, December 2020, 30 pp.

Publication number: Eionet report ETC/CME 4/2020