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  Report on the International Workshop on Electricity Data for Life Cycle Inventories (208 pp, 3.25 MB) (EPA/600/R-02/041) July 2002

A three-day workshop was held in October 2001 to discuss life cycle inventory data for electricity production. Electricity was selected as the topic for discussion because it features very prominently in the life cycle assessment (LCA) results for most product life cycles, yet there is no consistency in how these data are calculated and presented. About 40 people attended all or part of the workshop to discuss issues of data modeling and collection. Attendees included recognized experts in the electricity generation and life cycle assessment fields.

Five main topics of discussion were identified before the workshop began:

  • Modeling the response of the energy supply system to demand (i.e., marginal vs. average data)
  • Defining the breadth and width of system boundaries to adequately capture environmental flows and data needed for impact modeling
  • Allocating environmental burdens across co-products that come from the same process
  • Modeling new and nontraditional technologies in which the data are highly uncertain
  • Including transmission and distribution in modeling of electricity generation

Breakout groups addressed the first four topic areas in individual discussions and reported the results in a plenary session on the last day of the workshop. (It was decided during the workshop to include "transmission and distribution" in other discussions.)

Several ideas were advanced by agreement in the breakout groups' discussions:

  • The workgroup on marginal data made an important distinction in terminology by defining "marginal," "attributional," and "consequential" modeling. It further recommended that life cycle inventory (LCI) databases be developed so that they support both attributional and consequential modeling. The group cited the need for case studies of consequential modeling of the electricity system in order to shed light on many of the current questions surrounding this rather new and unfamiliar approach in LCI.
  • The workgroup on boundaries created a first-cut listing environmental emissions that should be included in the inventory.
  • The workgroup on new and nontraditional technologies noted that, despite difficulties that arise in conducting LCAs on renewables and due to uncertain operating data, any database on electricity must be flexible enough to include different stressors.
  • Access to unaggregated data was recognized as desirable by all the workgroups in order to meet most of the data needs.

A key success of the workshop was the creation of a larger network of LCA and electricity production experts. This network will provide a good foundation for continued discussions.


MaryAnn Curran

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