Combining energy systems models with life cycle assessment approaches – a critical review

Project description

Environmental scenario assessment is a quantitative and effective means to evaluate the impact of mitigation strategies regarding greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions as well as of a limited number of other environmental impacts. In order to expand the scope, i.e. the number, of environmental impacts of specific, mainly energy-related, mitigation strategies, some researchers have linked energy systems models and with the approach of life cycle assessment (LCA) without establishing an energy systems life cycle model. This represented a significant advance in identifying the driving forces that cause relevant environmental impacts.

However, although the combination of both approaches seems straightforward, the methodological challenges and potentials are still not fully revealed. For example, both approaches are characterized by different systems boundaries. Furthermore, the relevance of specific assumptions to realize the links are not quantified as well as data uncertainty is not tested. This could lead to uncertainty of outputs and potential unreliability of the results. The study focuses on these topics.

Based on the above discussion, the overarching motivation of this study is to make a critical review on the combination of energy systems models with a life cycle assessment approach: considering that energy systems models focus mostly on GHG of the conversion processes, is combining energy systems models with an LCA approach an reliable way to analyze comprehensively environmental impacts of e.g. mitigation strategies?

To achieve the motivation, three work packages are defined: Firstly, make a critical discussion of the approach on a conceptual level, to test how reliable the results could be, when two systems with different systems boundaries and assumptions are combined. Secondly, perform an uncertainty analysis, to quantify the statistical reliability of the approach. Thirdly, conduct a sensitivity analysis, to quantitatively identify the key parameters affecting the life cycle environmental impacts in decarbonizing the European electricity production.

Administrative data

Supervisor: Prof. Dr. Wolf Fichtner
Advisor: Dr. Witold-Roger Poganietz
Doctoral students at ITAS: See Doctoral studies at ITAS


Lei Xu, M.Sc.
Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT)
Institute for Technology Assessment and Systems Analysis (ITAS)
P.O. Box 3640
76021 Karlsruhe